How to Ease the Trauma of Employee Layoffs

Layoffs differ from firings in a variety of ways, but one critical aspect comes to mind: The people being let go haven’t necessarily done anything to warrant losing their jobs. Layoffs occur for a number of reasons, which can include

  • Seasonal shifts in the demand for the company’s products or services

  • An unexpected business downturn that requires the company to make drastic cost reductions

  • A plant or company closure

  • An initiative that restructures work practices, leaving fewer jobs

  • A merger or acquisition that produces redundancy in certain positions

Whatever the reason for a layoff, the pressure on the HR function is the same. You need to help your company navigate this difficult turn of events with as few long-term repercussions as possible.

How to ease the burden on laid off employees

It is in your company’s long-term best interests to do whatever is reasonably possible and fiscally responsible to ease both the financial and psychological pain that layoffs invariably create. You may want to consider offering severance packages (you may have a written policy or practice obligating you to do so). Most employers offering severance benefits require a release of legal claims from the employee in exchange for the separation benefits.

You can take additional steps — for example, help in résumé writing, financial planning, networking, and so on — that won’t cost you much money but will, nonetheless, help employees get back on their feet again.

How to offer outplacement services for laid off employees

Outplacement firms are companies that specialize in helping dismissed employees (usually middle managers and above) move through the transition and find new employment. In a typical outplacement program, managers who’ve been let go get an opportunity to attend seminars or one-on-one sessions in such areas as career counseling, professional goal setting, and job-hunting basics (preparing effective résumés, networking, interviewing, and so on).

Outplacement, which is paid for by the former employer, can get expensive, particularly if your company is dealing with large numbers of dismissed managers. But it’s one of the best ways to help those managers who’ve been with your company a long time and need the support.

In major companies that conduct large-scale layoffs, outplacement services tend to be the rule, not the exception. Also, outplacement firms offer varying levels of services. It may be beneficial to offer at least a basic set of services to displaced employees versus none at all.

How to address the concern of remaining employees

Layoffs are traumatic not only for the people who are laid off but also for those who remain. Apart from the sympathy they may feel for colleagues, remaining workers must generally take on increased workloads. Regrouping after layoffs as quickly and effectively as possible and giving your new, smaller staff a renewed sense of purpose and opportunity is key to your future.

If, at some point, your company finds it necessary to conduct layoffs, keep the following pointers in mind:

  • Honest, open communication is critical. What you don’t say to employees can be as disconcerting and worrisome as what you do say. It’s important for managers to have team meetings very soon after layoffs have occurred, not to explain what’s taken place, set goals, clarify roles, and, most of all, genuinely listen to concerns.

  • Treat employees as professionals. Explain why the layoffs were necessary, why current staff members were chosen to stay on, and what you’re expecting from them in the future. Make employees aware that their contributions are now more essential to the company’s continued success than ever before.

  • Focus on the future. You’ll need to clearly explain why downsizing was an unavoidable move for your company. But instead of focusing too much on what employees have lost in terms of colleagues, focus on what they’re gaining in terms of a stronger, more stable company.

  • Consult a staffing firm. Just as staffing services can help your displaced employees find new work, they also can help you bring in skilled supplemental workers to maintain continuity and prevent burnout on the part of remaining full-time staff.

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