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An employer’s guide to compassionate communication with employees

Facing the daunting task of downsizing one’s workforce can be an emotionally challenging experience. It is crucial for leaders to make well-informed decisions while considering the impacts on both departing and remaining employees. Outlined below are five high-level considerations that are intended to help guide employers through the difficult process of layoffs.

Prepare for the announcement

Thorough planning is essential before delivering the news of a layoff. Take adequate time to prepare so that complexities of the situation can be navigated with greater empathy and precision. Consider the following steps:

  • Determine the goals of the restructuring or reduction-in-force. Before initiating any layoff process, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the organizational goals and the specific objectives that the restructuring aims to achieve. By defining these goals, one can shape the process and criteria for selecting employees with greater clarity and purpose.
  • Develop a fair and defensible process for employee selection. Establishing a transparent and objective process for selecting employees who will be affected by the layoff is crucial. This process should be based on well-defined criteria and should involve multiple stakeholders to ensure fairness and minimize the risk of subjective decisions.
  • Review the process in consideration of protected categories. It is essential to review the list of affected employees to identify any potential adverse impacts based on race, sex, age, or any other protected status. Taking steps to mitigate these impacts will demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable treatment throughout the layoff process.
  • Determine if WARN notices are required. Become familiar with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and any WARN notification obligations. The law requires employers to provide advance notice of mass layoffs or plant closures, giving employees and their communities time to prepare for the impact of job loss.
  • Prepare separation agreements if necessary. If separation pay or benefits are to be offered, it is important to work with legal counsel to prepare appropriate separation agreements because there are certain things that must be in the agreement and some things that likely cannot be in the agreement. These agreements can help ensure that departing employees receive necessary support and benefits during their transition.

Develop comprehensive communication plans

Effective communication is key to minimizing uncertainty and anxiety among employees. Collaborate with the HR department, legal counsel, and PR teams to develop a comprehensive communication strategy that provides clear and consistent messaging to all stakeholders involved.

Communicate with empathy

When communicating with affected employees, provide as much information as possible. Transparency and empathy can make a significant difference in how employees perceive the situation. Consider organizing town hall meetings and individual conversations to allow employees to express their concerns. Also, provide guidance on available resources. Open lines of communication foster a sense of trust and understanding among the affected employees.

Consider how to communicate remotely

In the age of remote work, it is crucial to maintain a personal connection, even during difficult conversations. Avoid impersonal communication methods like email or text messages to conduct layoffs. Utilize video conferences to deliver the news with compassion and address employees’ concerns directly. Preserving that personal connection, despite physical distance, can have a profound impact on how employees perceive the situation.

Consider timing

The day of the week for layoffs is a matter of preference. Some companies choose Fridays, allowing employees the weekend to process the news. Others prefer earlier in the week to provide immediate support and assistance. Consider the unique dynamics of your organization.

In conclusion, effective and compassionate communication during layoffs and organizational restructuring is not just a matter of compliance, but a testament to one’s leadership and commitment to the employees’ well-being. The aforementioned strategies and insights provide a road map for navigating these challenging times with empathy and transparency. The reality is the process of downsizing or restructuring a workforce is undoubtedly challenging but also an opportunity for growth and resilience. Remember, it is in these moments of adversity that true leadership shines through, leaving a lasting impact on an organization’s culture and the lives of its employees.

Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law.