How To Conduct a Layoff – Go Beyond the Basics

MP900341467One of the regular features of this blog is a series of posts about “favorite firings” – situations when an employee has been fired that are unique, because either the employee or the company (or its manager) has done something questionable. But what about situations when an employer needs to fire multiple employees? Whether because of a business downturn or a reorganization, there are occasions when even good employees cannot be retained.

Many Human Resources managers have to work with line management to design the new organization, slot existing employees into the new roles in the organization, and determine how to transfer or lay off employees who do not fit the new roles. This is not an easy part of the HR function, and it is fraught with legal and employee relations risks.

I worked on several reorganizations during my corporate career, both as an employment law attorney and as a HR director. Layoffs, or reductions in force (RIFs), are also a large topic in my novel in progress, Playing the Game (which I hope to publish this fall).

As a result of my past and present involvement in RIFs, I was interested in the recent Inc. article, Lay-Offs: This Is Exactly What You Don’t Want to Do, by Francesca Fenzi.  Ms. Fenzi gives the following broad tips for how to terminate employees during a layoff:

(1) Do it face-to-face.

(2) Rally the (remaining) troops.

(3) Go the extra mile.

These pointers are correct, as far as they go, and Ms. Fenzi’s article is worth reading. But whole books – “how-to” books, not novels – could be written on each of these three tips, and much is left unsaid in each simple statement.

Face-to-face = RESPECT.  It is critical that the fired employees believe the organization values their past work and is treating them as humanely as possible. Before the employer can authentically show respect for terminated employees, managers and HR need to have done a thorough job in determining that there is in fact no role for each individual who must be let go. And they need to be sure that the reorganization has not been implemented in a manner that adversely impacts a particular racial, gender, age, or other protected group. Only when the leg-work is done ahead of the RIF can the fired employees feel they were given a fair shake.

Rally the remaining troops = CHANGE MANAGEMENT.  This is about the morale of the workforce going forward and change management. Not only must the departing employees feel they have been treated as fairly as possible, but the remaining employees must feel that way also. Those who are left behind – the “survivors” –also must understand their new roles in the organization, believe they have the training and ability to do the job, and not feel overwhelmed by the change. Managers and HR need to re-engage the remaining employees in their work.

Go the extra mile = LEADERSHIP.  This is about communication and leadership. The old adage “communicate, communicate, communicate” applies at every step after a layoff is announced. There is a time for confidentiality before the decisions are final, but once the RIF is public, leaders must step up and own it – this includes leaders at all levels of the organization – from the C-suite to middle managers to front-line supervisors. Each level of management must be equipped to communicate to their reports, until they feel they are over-communicating, and then communicate patiently again. All leaders need to visibly support the organization, so that their employees will buy into the future. HR should drive that process.

For good overviews of the details in conducting a reduction in force, read articles such as:

Layoffs, Downsizing & Reductions in Force: How to Do Them Right, by Greg S. Labate, on the Labor & Employment Law Blog

QuickCounsel: Planning and Conducting a Reduction in Force, by Scott T. Baken and Penny Ann Lieberman, Jackson Lewis LLP, on the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) website

Tips for Planning Reductions in Force – Michael L. Rosen, Foley Hoag LLP (ebook)

And talk to your own employment law advisor early in in the process.

What experience have you had as a manager in conducting layoffs? What do you wish you had known before you started?

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Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Law, Leadership, Management, Workplace, Writing

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