My company like so many others is cost-cutting, and the final steel-cage death match meeting is on Monday. My department of 20 will be reduced by 3-6 people, and my boss is already expressing concern as to how to do the communication on Tuesday of who is staying and who is at risk of redundancy.

Manager Tools advice has helped me so much over the last couple of weeks as the cost-reduction efforts have played out, so many thanks for that. I couldn't find anything on how to handle the lay-off communication itself.

I know there is no right way of breaking the news, but does anyone have any advice on a least bad way?


jhack's picture

The podcast you're looking for is:

"Compassionate Layoffs"


mptully's picture

Many thanks John - that is an excellent podcast.

I didn't make my question clear enough, sorry.
I am not asking about the one-to-one communication to the person being laid off - that's when the podcast you refer to will be invaluable.

I am talking about the group communication before that, when at the start everyone is nervous as to who is staying and who is going, and at the end there are some very relieved people, and others who are left to face that very meeting and the prospect of redundancy.

Do you hold a group meeting with two doors - exit left if you are staying and right if you are going? Do you do the deed by email? Do you quietly come and tap some people on the shoulder and invite them into your office to hear the news, when everyone else is watching who gets the fatal shoulder-tap?
Everyone knows it is coming, it is just a question of how to get the communication done with the least pain for all concerned.

jhack's picture

The podcast does cover your issues, in particular the communications before, during and after.

So, no, there is no communication whatsoever before. NO EMAIL.

The layoffs are done in person, one on one, in scheduled 15 minute meetings.

Afterwards, you meet with the remaining team members as a group.

The podcast does cover what to say during those meetings.


mptully's picture

Thanks again for your thoughts, John.

In which case my question is a highly practical one about how best to communicate to arrange these 15-minute meetings.

I can foresee down-sides to any approach.
If by person (that shoulder-tap) immediately before the meeting, just to the person concerned, it minimises the amount of time that person has to worry about it but what does it do to the rest of the workforce awaiting their turn, who don't yet know if they should expect their own shoulder-tap next?
If in advance to arrange the 15-minute slots, then those invited will guess their fate before their meeting, increasing the period of unknown before they are finally told for sure.
Meanwhile the rest of the workforce who know this is happening remain worried and nervous - and no work gets done until all the meetings are over and you can do the group communication. Its a fully open-plan office so their are absolutely no secrets.
Are there any other options available - which would cause the least distress? Might a group communication at the start explaining the process be better?

I don't think this precise issue is covered in the podcast, excellent though it remains.


jhack's picture


Everyone knows it's coming.
Everyone's attentive to schedules, and they're talking about it and sharing information.
Anything you do will be deciphered (rightly or wrongly).

If you're really going to do it Tuesday, then their wait is almost over. There is no increase in "the period of unknown" because that time is fixed and no one knows.

Does everyone know it's coming down on Tuesday?


mptully's picture

The decision day has been delayed twice already by the protracted negotiations of other options, so yes, everyone knows it's coming, and Tuesday has been stated in the spirit of openness so people know when the waiting period will be over. When on Tuesday is not yet known...

The option that looks least bad to me is to gather everyone together as soon as we have the go-ahead, and announce the number of lay-offs in the department, then state that the people at risk will be told individually in the next hour or two.
Then the shoulder-taps and the individuals are notified in one-to-ones, which gives everyone a limit on the most distressing uncertainty period of the news-giving.
Then another group meeting at the end of the one-to-ones to confirm everyone else is safe.

If there are better options I'd love to hear them.


jhack's picture


Your plan sounds like a least bad choice. Fortunately or unfortunately, I've not had this exact situation, so I can't share "what worked / what didn't."

Anyone else out there with ideas or experience with this?

Good luck, Joe, and let us know how it goes.


John Hack

ccleveland's picture

Having gone through a similar plan as an employee I can tell you what we experienced.

During a lay-off years ago, all the employees of our division were gathered in an all-hands meeting and received an explanation of the lay-off, about how many were affected, and that over the next couple of hours, individuals would be contacted by management and HR.

The rest of the day was extremely tense and stressful for the entire division. No work got done, and any management walking around created tension, gossip, and fear. Notifications took longer than expected, protracting this out. To make matters worse, IS was told to deactivate some accounts too early which caused some individuals to find out that they were out because they couldn't access email and other systems.

While I generally like the idea of being open with communications, this is an example where that openness can do much more harm than good. When I listened to the Compassionate Layoffs cast, I remember thinking about how much different my experience could have been. It's about compassion for both the employees being laid off AND those you need to drive future success.


asteriskrntt1's picture

There is no perfect plan.

I was downsized from a major insurance company when we were acquired. Ultimately, 2200 of us were let go out of about 3500.

The acquiring company did many stupid things, like having town hall meetings to ask people if they would relocate to one of the satellite head office towns. Well, who is going to commit to a move without any job/career details. It just created more tension.

One of the good things they did was give everyone a layoff book, which outlined your potential severance package for your pay grade. Everyone knew exactly how much money, benefits, pension adjustment and outplacement support they were getting.

I was supposed to get transferred to the acquiring company, then they changed their mind. I managed through 4 managers during the transition and 8 months of changing priorities before I was let go.

Eventually, my boss came in from out of town, told me what was going down, gave me a few options. Instinctively, I created a briefing book and handed things over professionally before I left.

I would not announce the numbers or tell people they are safe. You may be safe today and the plan might change tomorrow. Keep safe off the menu. You won't be able to make every person feel good. And from my experience, many of the people who don't get laid off end up bitter and feeling guilty that they survived. Be prepared for that too.


mptully's picture

Many thanks John, CC & RNTT for your thoughts.
I hope you coped OK with your own lay-off experiences - and hearing about what happened in your organisations does help me prepare better for what will happen in mine.
As my company is small the communication culture is quite open, so my preference is to be fully open even with this difficult news. Your words of warning have made me think of alternatives.
Thanks again

asteriskrntt1's picture

I am curious... how did this communication go?