Out of curiosity, what do you think is the best way to handle layoffs / redundancies from a management perspective? 

Given the current economic climate, very few businesses seem to escape the inevitable round of layoffs.  We're going through it right now where I work and I'm getting all kinds of feedback, plus my own two cents, so I'd be curious to hear what ya'll think or have experienced in this realm.

At my husband's former company, they said "Now through (six weeks from now), layoffs will happen in various areas" and people would panic whenever HR would get off the elevator on a particular floor.  People would watch as the HR rep would go into a VP's office with a packet, call the person in and watch as the whole entourage would come out the laid off associate's desk to hover over them as personal items got packed up.

Things have been handled quite a bit differently here and I've heard this round is being handled significantly differently from the last time they did layoffs (more than 10 years ago.)

I'm convinced there's no PERFECT way to handle layoffs but I'd be interested to hear personal experiences (from any side of the equation) and what was good, bad or indifferent about that particular approach, in your opinion.

Thanks in advance for sharing!

jhack's picture

It depends on the details of the situation: size of company, scale of layoff, timing, your role, etc.  

That's why the M-T forums generally don't deal in hypotheticals - because we as managers deal with the messy particulars... 

John Hack

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

But in general saying it's going to happen over 6 weeks is a really bad idea.  Plan, Deliver, Communicate, Done.

ashdenver's picture

You want specifics and particulars?  That's funny - so did I! LOL

"...but I'd be interested to hear personal experiences (from any side of the equation) and what was good, bad or indifferent about that particular approach, in your opinion."

#1 - On Monday, each impacted associate was brought (individually) to a conference room away from their regular work area where their manager, the HR rep and another support manager presented the news that their position had been eliminated. At that point, the support manager went back to the associate's desk to get the immediate personal items needed and they were escorted from the building.  The direct manager and the support manager waited until the end of the day to inventory and pack up the remaining personal items which were handed off to the Traffic Dept who shipped it to their home address on Tuesday for delivery today, Weds.  As managers, we have not been allowed to speak to the remaining employees about any of it for the past two days.  We've been given a script to work from and we're not allowed to send out group communications to our teams about anything.  (Associates have been begging to be told one way or another what's going on, some in tears, and we're not allowed to tell them "Your job has not been eliminated" or "You remain employed at this point.")

#2 - Yesterday morning, the entire company was told that the Corporate office would be reviewing "organizational efficiency" with the goal of "bringing us closer to our clients."  I think/hope/pray that our group in our division will be okay since there are only 7 layers between the client and the CEO.  A former teammate went to a different division within the company and their group currently stands at 9 ayers.  I'm hopeful that I won't lose my job but they're saying this won't be finished until "early FY'10" (which begins July 1st, so I figure I can't breathe again until September.)

#3 - In the past, the layoff approach was that the VP sent an email that basically said "If you've received this email, speak of it to NO ONE and report to the lunch room at 2:00 pm."  Once the employees gathered to hear the VP speak, other managers went through and informed the remaining people (still seated at their desks, blissfully unaware of the email) that their jobs had been eliminated, they were allowed to pack up their desks with that supervision and they were escorted from the building.  Meanwhile, in the lunch room, the VP broke the news that some people were being laid off.

#4 - And, of course, I shared how things went down at my husband's company (see above) - the parade of shame, in full view of the remaining employees, stretched over a period of time.

So there we have four specific ways in which layoffs are being handled: 

  1. No notice or warning to the impacted employees, immediately escorted from the building, sight virtually unseen, with a two day delay in communication surrounding the events.
  2. Three to four months of warning that something will happen.
  3. No notice or warning and done discretely but the actions openly discussed in a timely manner.
  4. Four to six weeks of warning that something will happen, conducted in full view, complete with the Walk of Shame.

I certainly don't agree with "You're not allowed to speak to your DR's about any of this, even while it's happening, even when we ask them to take over accounts for the departed, even when they beg & cry." 

  • I've had associates complain that they didn't get a chance to say good-bye in Option #1.  
  • I've had associates tell me it's just wrong that someone else is going through the laid-off-person's desk to gather the personal items (for Option #1).  
  • I've had associates tell me it was creepy and wrong to send the "don't tell anyone" email (from Option #3) and that it created an atmosphere of fear when things got quiet in the office for years beyond. 
  • I've had associates tell me that layoffs were handled better in Option #3 than in Option #1.
  • I've had associates tell me that they're really uncomfortable (as am I) with Option #2.
  • I've had feedback from those who've endured Option #4 that it was humiliating and degrading.

So ... have I given enough specifics yet?  Can anyone else give ME some specifics from actual layoff proceedings where things went well or not so well?  What specifically worked?  What specifically didn't work?  And why?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

..that are mentioned above are thoughtful, kind, or let alone effective.  I could go through the list and say, "ineffective" to virtually everything.  I've had lots of experience in layoffs, and we've shared some of it in our Compassionate Layoffs cast.  More to come, as well.

kima's picture
Training Badge

My company has gone through major "transformation" and during the process round after round after round of layoffs over the course of three years.   Our process has evolved some and I can tell you there is no single "correct" way.  Also, since I'm not in a position to change company policy, I've tried to work within the things I can do within the process.  For example, in our company, the direct manager informs the person being laid off and there is a set script you follow.   You're not allowed to say things like "I'm sorry" but of course you are very sorry!   Things I've learned to do along the way:

1.  You should never violate your company's HR policies or legal requirements -- even though they sometimes suck (pardon my language.)  I've had a hard time with this one - how to balance my personal integrity with HR policy.  While I don't always agree with the rules, in the end I've come to realize that as a management team, we have a certain stewardship for the company and I try to do the best I can within the rules and without compromising my values. 

2.  You can't make them happy about it.   No matter how you do it, you will feel awful, your team's morale will be down, and the affected employees will feel worse.  There is nothing you can say or do to make people feel good about it.  You can however, within the rules of your company, do everything you can to make the process more humane and to demonstrate your strength and itegrity as a leader under horrible circumstances.  Being a good manager is not always about making everyone feel happy.

3.  Find out what you can and cannot communicate.  We now have permission to let people know that a) there is a plan for this fiscal year to reduce by x% and b) we have this % left to execute in our plan by xyz date. Yes, it affects morale for people to know something is coming but in my experience, they figure it out anyway, and honesty is a good thing.  Most people want to know.  I also tell them that I am not allowed to share specific dates, names, or the selection process.  They don't like not knowing but my team seems to respect the fact that I share with them what I can. 

4.  Prepare your team - even if you have no layoffs in your plan!  I regularly have open discussions with my staff on topics like preparing a resume and point them to Manager Tools for help.  I always preface these dicussions with "this is not a secret coded message that I know layoffs are coming" or "today, at this moment, there are no layoffs that I'm aware of, but..."  and then we talk about things that they should be doing to manage their careers.  When I first took on my current team, 75% did not have a current resume and did not understand why they should maintain one!  I've also had a conversation with my team on the topic of FEAR and it's impact to them as people and to the team's performance.  While you will still feel awful if you lay someone off, and you may not be allowed to say you're sorry, you can at least know you've done your best to prepare them.

5.  We're globally dispersed and there is no walk of shame.  However, our layoffs are always on Monday  and word spreads rapidly if layoffs are happening today.    We now have permission to send an email (or talk in person) that indicates that we had an action today, that afftected people have been informed, and if you haven't yet been informed, you are not impacted.  Still not overly friendly but far better than leaving people hanging. 

6.  As I said, our layoffs are always on Monday and people are afraid of meetings with their manager on Monday.  So, I scheduled all my one-on-ones for Mondays (it fits our business cycle too.)  Now, everyone meets with me every Monday and my team has gotten that day back in their week as not always horrible. 

7.  Prepare yourself.  No matter how strong you are, no matter what your DISC profile, no matter how much you believe in the business case for doing it, laying someone off is not like terminating for cause, and it will affect you.  It's like dying a little inside each time.  I let my family know and have discussed with my spouse how it makes me feel.  I go for a walk after notifications or spend some time alone in a conference room - even if just ten minutes.  Be prepared, most of your team won't sympathize with you and probably shouldn't anyway - you're management, part of "them."   If your  network is strong, you can however, find support from other managers in the same boat.  I always send a short note of support to other managers I know who might be doing a layoff that day. 

8.  Take care of your team.  Have a team meeting as soon as your HR rules allow.  Acknowledge that it happened and that it is sad for everyone involved.  Then get future focused.  It's a fine line - if you pretend like it didn't happen, your team will think you're insincere and heartless  If you dwell on it, you condone a pitty party and actually make them feel worse.  So I acknowledge the event, the sad feelings, and then try to focus on what happens next - any changes in responsibilities, goals, etc. 



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

A very helpful post - well done!