How to Lay Off Employees and Still Be the ‘Good Guy’


If you were to ask any manager what his or her least favorite task is, most would probably tell you that they hate having to conduct layoffs and let go of good people. Layoffs are never fun for anyone involved, but if you are a manager who cares about your people, sending them to the unemployment line can be both disheartening and frustrating.

While you may not be able to change the circumstances leading to the layoffs, you can take steps to ease the sting of the news a bit. Communicating the news with sensitivity, helping those losing their jobs, and making yourself available as a resource can all make the layoff process a little less painful, and help get your people back to work as soon as possible.

Why You Want to Help Your Employees

Although the result is the same (unemployment), getting laid off is different than getting fired. When you are laid off, it’s usually part of a larger corporate effort to cut costs or restructure the company, and isn’t related to your individual performance. Getting laid off makes employees eligible for unemployment benefits, and perhaps more importantly, allows them to be rehired.

Because you may be able to rehire some or all of your employees, it’s a good idea to maintain good relationships with them throughout the layoff process. If your best people leave angry or disgruntled, they are unlikely to come back if offered another position — and they may badmouth you or your company, harming your brand. Maintaining good relationships with your former employees is also a security issue. According to a survey conducted by the FBI, disgruntled employers are responsible for millions of dollars in losses due to security breaches every year.

Above all, though, helping your employees post-layoff is just the right thing to do. They deserve compassion and respect in what’s bound to be a challenging time. Not to mention, your remaining employees are watching how you handle those who are being let go, and if that goes poorly, it may reflect in their performance and attitudes.

How You Can Help

Effectively handling layoffs begins with how you communicate the decision to employees. Federal labor law requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days’ notice of impending layoffs or plant closures, but even smaller companies should provide at least a few weeks’ notice before the last day of work. Ideally, you should notify employees of their status individually — not in a group — and in person, so you can explain the decision, offer information about what happens next, and answer any questions.

Beyond communicating about the layoffs, you can offer services to your employees to help them make the adjustment, including:

  • Career counseling
  • Career outplacement services
  • Financial counseling
  • Benefits review meetings to determine what to do with retirement accounts, savings accounts, and health coverage
  • Resume writing assistance/resume reviews

In addition to these services, some companies also offer laid off employees a flexible schedule for the time they are still employed so they can attend meetings, go to interviews, or complete other job search tasks. If an internal transfer is an option, consider whether existing employees should get preferential treatment for any open positions.

Another way you can help your employees is to offer references and help with networking. Perhaps you can make some calls to your contacts to open doors for your best people, or put in a good work with a company you know is considering one of your former charges. In short, make yourself available as a resource to help — even if it’s difficult to watch your employees go to work for someone else.

The most important thing to do before laying off employees is to prepare and get your ducks in a row before you make the announcement. Your HR department can help with the logistics and legalities of the process; if you don’t have an HR department, consult with an employment attorney or HR consulting firm before proceeding with the layoffs. Even if you have the best of intentions, seemingly insignificant mistakes could have serious repercussions for your business.

Above all, the most important thing to remember when conducting layoffs is to be as honest and transparent as possible, and gracious to your departing employees. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to rehire them in before too long. In the worst case, you have a good relationship with a talented individual and peace of mind that you did everything you could to help.

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