Communicating about layoffs

How to tell an employee that their job is being eliminated

Good communication is critical in the planning and implementation of layoffs. While the information you have to present is not pleasant, employees must hear it directly and honestly from management, not from the rumor mill.

Telling employees they are going to be laid off is never an easy task. As a manager you may experience anxiety and guilt about having to take that action. Recognize that your feelings are normal. Making sure that you treat the employee humanely and compassionately will help to make this difficult situation more tolerable for both of you.

In preparation for meeting with employees being laid off, take the following steps:

  • Working with Human Resources Administration, develop a plan for how and when to communicate to management and staff about impending layoffs.
  • Be prepared to discuss logistical considerations such as last day of work, exit interview, final paycheck, return of keys, etc.
  • Be ready emotionally. Handle your own stress and anxiety by preparing yourself. You may wish to talk to other managers who have had to conduct layoffs. Remember that you are not personally responsible for the layoff. Consider consulting with the Center for Work and Family Life for help dealing with stress/guilt you may feel.
  • Prepare for the employee’s reaction (see Reactions section below). The employee may be upset or angry, and/or may blame you. Anticipate such a reaction so you are prepared to handle it in the best possible way.
  • Be knowledgeable about the layoff process and available resources (university-provided outplacement, Center for Work and Family Life, etc.)

Conducting the layoff meeting – do’s and don’ts

DO:

  • Speak to the employee in a private place.
  • Get right to the point.
  • Briefly explain the reasons for the layoff. Listen to the employee and wait for a response.
  • Restate the message if necessary.
  • Describe the assistance that the university offers.
  • Give the employee the layoff letter.
  • Clarify the separation date.
  • Allow employees to express how they feel.
  • Offer support and a sympathetic ear; listen without being defensive. Understand the employee’s perspective.
  • Review logistics such as turning in keys, computer access, etc.
  • Be available afterward to address the employee’s issues and concerns about the layoff.
  • Provide the employee with the Center for Work and Family Life’s Resources and services for displaced employees.
  • Maintain open communication.

DON’T:

  • Engage in small talk.
  • Use humor.
  • Be apologetic.
  • Defend, justify or argue.
  • Threaten.
  • Identify others being laid off.
  • Try to minimize the situation.
  • Personalize the anger.
  • Downplay or discredit the employee’s concern.

Reactions to expect from employees

As mentioned above, it’s best to prepare yourself for a number of possible reactions from employees who are told they’re being laid off:

  • Shock/Silence
  • Disbelief
  • Negative attitude
  • Anger/Blame
  • Fear
  • Grief/Tears

You may also encounter reactions from remaining employees after the layoff action: 

  • Shock/Silence
  • Anger/Blame
  • Frustration
  • Negative attitude
  • Insecurity
  • Fear
  • Loss of productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased accidents
  • Resistance to change
  • Unintentional sabotage by resisting organizational change

After the layoff

As a manager, you must respond to the feelings of the remaining staff and communicate a positive image for the future. Be patient with employees, and acknowledge that it’s normal to feel anxious in these types of situations. Maintain an open door policy so employees can come to you for guidance and support, and recognize that employees differ on how quickly they can adapt to change. You may also wish to conduct a series of meetings to provide an ongoing safe place for communication. Some suggested topics:

  • Explain the department reorganization and redefine roles as necessary.
  • Discuss any impact on workload/work flow.
  • Ask for suggestions for improving department effectiveness.
  • Assure staff members that no other positions will be affected at this time (if this is true).
  • Mention that the Center for Work and Family Life’s services are available for any employees having difficulty with changes.
  • Express optimism for the future.
  • End on a positive note; reiterate that staff members are valued and important.