Manager communication guidance for a layoff

14 minutes

How to prepare 

It goes without saying that 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) and what to do after the layoffs are announced.

The conversation

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.

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.

To the person being laid off - Sample Manager Script 

🗨 Say this:

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.

Why?

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: “What does this mean for me?” or “When do I stop being paid?” or “How many other people are being affected?” or “What if I work harder?” or “Can I take a pay cut? I need this job”.

🗨 Say this:

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, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to lay you 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 the 1st of the month so that your health benefits continue for the following month” (or whatever your policy is).

I know this is a lot of information coming at you at once, and I’m so sorry to have to relay this message to you.

Why?

Make it clear what the transition is for them, literally. Outline the facts and get all of the information on the table.

🗨 Say this:

Just so you’re aware: 55 positions are being eliminated today. Out of respect for the other people 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. How do you think you would like to handle that?

Why?

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.

🗨 Say this:

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.

Why?

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

You may get different kinds of questions and reactions. This Q&A covers common reactions.

Question: Why was my position chosen for elimination?

Answer: It was a business decision. Please don’t take this personally; when a reduction in force occurs, positions are eliminated. The people who are attached to those jobs then get laid off. It’s the hardest thing a manager can do—selecting positions for elimination is so difficult because you realize that people’s lives will be interrupted. That’s why 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 point. We haven’t spoken to the other individual(s) yet, so I would ask that you allow me to hold off on answering that for now. [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, purely from a functional standpoint, your position made the most sense.

Question: Why am I the only one? Wait, You can’t lay me off and keep X. I have more tenure than she/he does. 

Answer: I recognize that. However, I want you to know that we considered tenure in our decision. We also looked at performance appraisals, progressive disciplinary warnings, attendance records, education levels, and skills and technical certifications when determining who would be qualified to assume the remaining work after the layoff. Are there any other questions I could answer for you?

Question: How can that be? 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. That’s something we’ll simply have to deal with in this new “downsized” mode.

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.

Depending on how many of these lay-off conversations you have to do, you can talk them through the document at a high level. But try to avoid going through all the details because they will likely have many questions.

DOs and DONTs

What to do

What not to do

Script for remaining employees

After the announcements, you will likely spend time with your team to support them.

Here is a script to provide some guardrails on how to talk to them after:

I wanted to meet with you all to follow up on the news of the layoffs that happened earlier today. As you may know, [number] members of our team have been laid off. The company has provided them with a severance package and is working with them through this transition.
I know many of you are probably wondering about job security. Of course, I can’t make any guarantees. But as far as we understand, there aren’t any other planned layoffs in our department at this time. I wanted to let you all know to reduce any fears you might have.

We wish all the best to those that were affected. And I know you do too. This isn’t easy.

Pause for questions.

If there are no other questions, I wanted to thank you all for coming. I appreciate your patience and understanding, and I look forward to moving beyond this difficult period.

Manage and redistribute work after layoffs

After the layoff, you will need to divide tasks and responsibilities thoughtfully.

Be mindful to not overload or overwhelm employees with the tasks of those who were laid off. They may still be grieving the layoff, may disagree with it, or have survivors guilt.

There may also be some employees who are afraid of losing their job too and won’t say anything even if they are overwhelmed. All of these reactions can affect morale and motivation.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Meet with small groups of employees or 1-1 if your team is small.
  2. Be honest about the reality of what work will be like, at least in the short term.
  3. Then, ask your employees how they feel about it. Give them space to vent and share their thoughts. It’s better to do this out in the open.
  4. Explain that you understand the additional responsibilities and the added stress that may come with it. Let them know how you will attempt to reprioritize their work. Make every attempt where possible to eliminate unnecessary tasks.
  5. If there is some restructuring you need to do, try to involve your team in it. Studies show that grieving coworkers were reassured and more committed to the organization if they were involved.
  6. Focus on positive action. Discuss how the difficult short-term steps will positively affect the future. Let them know that leadership is on board and supportive. Explain that you and others from the management team will be available to discuss any questions.
  7. Be gracious. Sincerely thank everyone for their understanding and for their effort.
  8. Repeat this cycle as needed.

How to manage motivation and grief 

Layoffs can be traumatic for remaining employees. They are likely grieving the loss of their co-workers while also feeling anxious about their own job security, what their role will look like now, and more.

Because of this, employees may not be capable of performing exactly as they have in the past. This is normal - don’t expect an immediate return to normal productivity. Instead, learn how to coach employees through their grief and manage motivation during this time.

What to know about grief

You will likely feel pressure to get your team back to pre-layoff productivity levels, or even higher. This is unlikely at first. If you push too hard, it won’t feel empathetic and could back-fire.

Give people a couple of days at least to process and grieve. Send them a note to remind them that you’re available to chat and provide support.

You’ll notice different behaviors

Remind yourself that people cope with change differently.

Some may lack energy, motivation, have difficulty concentrating, have more conflict, or might even get sick.

Obviously, those whose jobs have changed significantly because of the layoff will likely be more affected.

Also - depending on people’s mindset, or of their previous experiences, or other challanges that may be going on in their lives - a layoff can affect some people more.

Learn what each of your employees need

If you notice any of the behaviors mentioned above, you will need to figure out what the person needs most.

Some need to talk it out. Others suffer silently. Some find relief in complaining. Some will be really supportive of the change. Tailor your coaching and guidance accordingly.

And, if you don’t know what each of them need, simply ask them!

How to coach

  1. First, remember it’s ok just to listen. It’s very possible employees just want to be heard and don’t necessarily want advice. Ask, “would you like me just to listen or would you like some advice?”
  2. Remind them their emotions are legitimate and shouldn’t be ignored  - people need time for intense emotions to die down.
  3. Encourage them to be kind to themselves. Self-care is especially important at this time.
  4. Remind them of the resources available including an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

What to say in a 1-1

  1. This is an opportunity to communicate with your direct reports how each of them are crucial to the success of the goals of the team and company. Reaffirm their commitment by letting them know (if they don’t already) how their work affects and impacts the product, customers, clients, or more in a positive way. Show them how they add value. Research shows that communicating and stressing these connections can lead to a 32.8% increase in discretionary effort of layoff survivors.
  2. Continue to openly communicate about any changes in the company and its future direction. Don’t leave people guessing!
  3. Ask and encourage them to discuss any fears or concerns they might have.

What to do for the whole team

Maintain your team rituals

Keep your daily and weekly rituals going. Familiar meeting structures like stand-ups and team meetings are important unless the group decides to change them.

Spend quality time with the team and find ways to bond.

Have a team lunch or bring some treats or throw a virtual happy hour to give the team a chance to gather as a group. Small gestures mean a lot!

Share a positive outlook

Don’t over-do this but be sure to mention the positive goals that you can accomplish this year together. Make sure to review them together as the team to help people focus on progress and the future rather than the past.

Give extra notice to things going well

Pay more attention to rewards, recognition and helping the remaining employees feel valued and appreciated.

For example, pick one employee each day and give them some specific positive feedback.

Credits: Photo by @williambout on Unsplash.