Layoff conversations may be one of the hardest conversations you will have in your career. Here is information you can read prior to your conversations to help you prepare.
⚠️ Pyn note to HR: Before sending this Pyn, ensure that your exec team has had a conversation with managers about the decision to layoff employees.
How to prepare
Layoffs have a tremendous impact on both the terminated and remaining employees and should not be taken lightly. In these times, employees need the support of their leaders more than ever.
We've prepared some information to help prepare you on what to say (or not to say).
First, be prepared and rehearse. It’s not uncommon to get flustered or nervous delivering this news. But don’t stray far from your script. Do not make this about you. Do not tell them how hard it is for you to give them this news or be a part of this process. You still have a job - they do not.
If on video, have your camera turned on, make sure ‘recording’ is turned off, and make sure you are in a quiet place without distractions. Have your electronic document package with all layoff and severance related information ready to go so you can send it while on the call or right after the call.
Start by sharing that the employee has been laid off
I have some news to share with you. The leadership team and I have had to make some difficult decisions in order to try and save our business, and as a part of that, we are eliminating your role at the company and you are being laid off.
Though it may feel cold, try to avoid the small talk - just get to the point. You may need to deliver the news twice because it's normal for people to be shocked by the news at first.
Then, wait for a bit. The person needs a moment to process. It might be an awkward silence. That’s okay. They may be upset or embarrassed or angry or a bunch of emotions at once.
Let them process. Then, they will likely ask you a question (see the sample Q&A below for examples).
Follow with additional information about the business decision
We are restructuring our business in an effort to reduce costs. The result is that we are eliminating a number of positions. Unfortunately, your position was one of the ones selected to be laid off. Today will be your last day of work with us, and we have information to share with you regarding your severance package, COBRA, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), and unemployment insurance. We’ll be keeping you on payroll until [DATE] so that your health benefits continue for the following month. I know this is a lot of information at once, and I’m so sorry to have to relay this message to you.
Just so you’re aware: [##] positions are being eliminated today. Out of respect for others involved, I would ask that you say as little as possible today. We would prefer to tell the affected employees ourselves; we want to avoid people hearing about this through the grapevine if we can help it. In addition, I know that some people prefer to leave quietly while others want to say goodbye to a few close friends. We’ll respect whatever decision you make.
Allow employees to determine how they want to depart from their jobs in the most graceful and dignified way possible. Avoid marching them out of the building holding a box of their stuff or shutting off messenger access immediately. Employees should also be given the opportunity to say their proper goodbyes. For people in the office - after the discussion has taken place, allow the employee to remain in the room alone to collect their emotions.
End with a thank you
Finally, I just want to thank you for all your hard work and dedication for the past two years. You have made it a better place around here, and I’m personally going to miss working with you. Thank you for all you have done for us.
Be genuine in your appreciation. This is a difficult moment but the way you leave the conversation matters and will be remembered.
Sample Q&A for a layoff conversation
You may get different kinds of questions and reactions during your conversation. Here are a few common questions along with answers you can use for guidance.
Question: Why was my position chosen for elimination?
Answer: It was a business decision. When a reduction in force occurs, positions are eliminated. The people who are attached to those jobs then get laid off. I’m so sorry that this is occurring.
Question: Who else is being laid off? Am I the only one in our department? Why me?
Answer: I can’t share who else is being laid off in the department at this time. [Or:] Yes, yours is the only position in our team that’s being eliminated. Again, please don’t feel that you’ve disappointed anyone. For now, though, understand that we had to eliminate one position, and, from a functional standpoint, your position made the most sense.
Question: Who’s going to do all the work that I do once I’m gone?
Answer: With the elimination of your position, other members of the department will have to take on the remaining job duties that you’ve handled up to now.
Question: If the question is about logistics (When do I stop being paid? What does this mean?)
Answer: I know this is a lot. I’m going to be sending you a document that outlines specifically what we will be doing as a part of your exit package and providing additional information and resources for you as soon as we get off the line.
Do’s and don’ts for layoff conversations
- This is where true leadership shows up. Demonstrate empathy. Be a listener. But, also, stand behind the company’s decisions. If you are a messenger but not a selector, don’t say, “I'm just the messenger.”
- You can say “I know this is a lot to take in, but you will get through this”.
- If appropriate, make it clear that you or someone at the company would be willing to be a reference for them when they are considering job opportunities.
- Do not make jokes or be lighthearted. Deliver the news calmly, then pause and listen.
- Do not give false promises: don’t tell them they'll be fine or that they'll find a better job. You don’t know if that is true. Don’t tell them you will help them find a job (you may offer to try and help, but you cannot guarantee that you will find one for them).
- Do not blame others. Don't blame external circumstances or the market. Don't blame your board or investors. Just own it.
- Do not ask them “Are you okay?” This question is usually about making the messenger feel better for delivering bad news, not supporting the employee. You can, however, ask if there’s something they need. If you are genuinely concerned for their safety and wellbeing or believe they are a danger to themselves or others, you need to tell them that’s what you are observing. And then you will need to be prepared to call someone close to them (and tell them you are doing that) and/or emergency services.