Too many companies botch mass layoffs

Too many companies botch mass layoffs


You travel to the office only to find that your security badge no longer works.

You log on to your work computer and you are not denied access.

Email arrives before dawn that you miss – especially if it’s sent before a major holiday.

A humiliating Zoom call is held with hundreds of people.

You receive an automated call.

Or – surprise! — you get a severance payment for the job you thought you still had.

When it comes to layoffs, there seems to be no end to the worst ways some employees first find out they’re being let go. All these mean is that organizations turn employees away, making people feel like their years of service and commitment count for nothing.

“People need to feel valued,” said Sarah Rodehorst, CEO of Onwards HR, an outsourcing technology platform for human resources, legal and finance teams. “[Some companies] treat the onboarding process as a transaction rather than personal communication with people.”

One recent example of poorly communicated job cuts came last week when parent Google Alphabet laid off 12,000 people, first via a pre-dawn email and then by locking them out of company systems and badges disable security, according to multiple reports from former employees. (Google declined to comment, referring instead to a blog post from the CEO on the day of the layoffs.)

As layoffs rise across a number of sectors this year – on the heels of Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Stitch Fix and others who have recently cut their staff – employers should be thinking just as much about how to deliver they the news as they do for all the finance, legal and HR components of a mass layoff, suggested Rodehorst.

Otherwise, poor communication and mistakes resulting from failure to make last-minute changes can signal to all departments involved in the layout how badly the employer is doing it right — for example offer generous severance and benefits.

It also destroys goodwill with departing employees, demoralizes the staff left behind and could hurt the company’s brand reputation with potential employees, said Raymond Lee, CEO of CareerMinds, a virtual outplacement company.

Not to mention that the organization opens itself up to criticism on social media and in the media – as found out the hard way last year when CEO Vishal Garg fired 9% of his company’s workforce in a video call which lasted less than three minutes. “If you’re on this call, you’re part of the unlucky group that’s being singled out,” Garg said. “Your employment is hereby terminated, with immediate effect.”

“You put a lot of effort into getting on board and treating people well. But when it comes to boarding it’s almost an afterthought,” said Lee. “You want the employees who are leaving to say, ‘I really enjoyed the years I gave to the organization.'”

Redundancy may be a business decision for the company. But it is completely personal and very stressful for the person who is laid-off. So it is crucial to handle how to deliver the news with compassion.

Let people expect it. Even if you don’t give much advance notice, give some when a version is ready to be executed. Employees should receive communication from the CEO or division leadership that informs them that layoffs will occur and offers them the business reasons for the decision.

That communication should let people know what to expect if they are directly affected – for example, explaining that they will be invited to a meeting with their manager or that they will receive an email outlining the first steps another.

“Advanced communication is key,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Notify people individually. Both Lee and Rodehorst emphasized that employers should always aim to set up personal meetings for the concerned employee with their manager and HR contact. In addition to directly delivering the news that the individual’s job has ended and offering information about recovery, benefits, severance services and other important details, the manager and HR person should make themselves available for questions with during and after the meeting. Ideally, this is done face-to-face, but if that’s not possible, a remote video conference can work too.

“You have to give people a chance to respond to the situation. You need to have a plan for how an employee can follow up and respond to their questions,” said Rodehorst.

If individual meetings are not possible, inform people through very small group meetings. By “small,” Lee means no more than 5 to 10 people, including a leader or manager he or she knows who delivers the news.

The rationale is twofold. The employees have some sense that their privacy and personal situation is being respected, and the organization can reduce the chance of an employee expressing their grievances publicly.

The more people there are in a meeting, the more likely one employee will videotape and post on social media, Lee said. With very small groups, “you minimize the risk of something bad happening.”

But even keeping things small won’t prevent embarrassment or deregulation unless you also emphasize that the layoff has nothing to do with a person’s performance. “Leaders must remember the upheaval that will result in the lives of their workers and emphasize that the decision has nothing to do with the talents of the affected employees. Departing employees should know they are valued when they leave,” said Challenger.

CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report

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