By Michael Gunther

Layoffs. There, I wrote it. They’re never pleasant, no matter the reason, not for owners or for employees or for the person communicating the layoff. Layoffs, by their very nature, are emotional events. And as we know, humans are emotional beings. So as business owners or managers, how do you deal with the emotions that come along with layoffs? How do you preserve relationships, both with the employees you layoff and with your current employees? How do you maintain your positive image and reputation in the midst of layoffs?

THE LAYOFF : be responsible

Don’t play the blame game – be responsible. Inform the employee of the facts behind the layoff – whether it relates to the economy or the company’s overall performance. For example, you may discuss steps the company has taken to avoid layoffs, and how this is a business decision necessary for the company’s survival.
State the facts, keep it basic, and allow the employee to respond, which will lead to the grieving process.

THE GRIEVING PROCESS: be empathetic

The layoff of an employee is felt as a loss, and with any loss comes the grieving process, which consists of five steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. All persons affected by the layoff will go through some level of grieving in their own way, depending on the amount of loss they feel.

As a leader or business owner, it is important to understand the grieving process, allow employees to express themselves, and empathize and show sensitivity towards their feelings – whether they are the one being laid off or not.
When people leave, it changes the dynamics of an organization. People feel frightened for their own job security, concerned for the person who lost their job, and sometimes guilty because they are still employed – grieving does go both ways. By simply offering ongoing and open communication to your active employees, you can be proactive in acknowledging and addressing their concerns too.

THE OUTCOME: offer guidance and resources

It is important to let the employees who are getting laid off know that you care about their well being. There are many ways to communicate this to the employee and assist them through their transition.  When my sister Sue was laid off last October, her employer contacted her three different times over a three month period to check in with her and see how her job search was progressing. They offered to be a reference for her and sent her a written letter of reference. Their simple actions went a long way for Sue, and allowed her to maintain a positive view of the company that laid her off.

Since most people do not know what to do once they lose their jobs, you can provide them with resources, such as a list of local career centers and employment agencies or tools to help them claim unemployment insurance. Although you may not be able offer a severance package, you can consider providing a one hour session with a career coach or maybe you can pay for them to attend a resume writing workshop.

The Bottom Line:
When your company is forced to make tough decisions regarding layoffs, you can still maintain healthy employee relationships and your company’s positive image and reputation by tapping into the human element – take time to listen to your employees and show them that you truly care.

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