Conducting Layoffs During the Coronavirus Crisis With Care and Compassion

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 The Covid-19 pandemic has upended the world of work as we know it, forcing companies to rethink their workforce deployment strategies as the economy grinds to a halt. Many organizations have pledged to support workers during the crisis, but with more than 40 million people already filing for unemployment in the US, layoffs are certainly on the minds of many organizations. For those companies that explore all alternatives but still find layoffs to be a necessary step, it is critical that companies take a thoughtful and compassionate approach to these separations for the sake of their outgoing workers, remaining employees, and the long-term reputation of their brand.

Some organizations have been able to weather the economic storm better than others. Starbucks committed to continue paying workers for 30 days during the crisis, while Morgan Stanley pledged to not lay off any workers for the rest of the calendar year. On the flipside, there are reports that some companies have laid off hundreds or even thousands of employees en masse through brief, hastily organized video conference calls, while others have promised to not lay off employees, only to reverse course and let workers go days later.

While eliminating positions may be a necessary and unavoidable way to cut costs, the social media backlash that can follow these types of separation tactics can cause lasting damage to a company’s reputation and make it harder to attract and retain talent now and in the future – not to mention the fact that handling this situation well and with care is the right, and human thing to do. In addition, the mismatch between skills and work and the talent shortages that existed before the pandemic will return. Companies with a negative employer brand will find it more difficult to compete in the long-term.

If reducing the size of your workforce is something your organization is faced with during the current economic crisis, consider the following approaches to conducting a work separation with care and compassion:

Explore alternatives to workforce reductions. Employers are recognizing that, when possible, pursuing internal talent mobility strategies rather than layoffs can provide greater long-term benefits for the business and is a much better experience for employees. By reskilling employees with new, in-demand skillsets, those workers can be redeployed within the company, thereby avoiding a layoff, addressing a business need, and encouraging a positive, forward-moving work culture.

Although proactive companies may still have to conduct layoffs, organizations who reskill and redeploy their workers will have to cut fewer jobs, save on severance costs, improve employee satisfaction, and not have to re-hire talent when the crisis is over, all by better mobilizing and utilizing their talent.

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Conduct one-on-one, compassionate separation meetings. When layoffs are unavoidable, employers must be prepared to both deliver the news in a compassionate way and consider providing outplacement services to support affected employees. This is especially true when social distancing does not allow employee separations to be conducted in-person.

Given the number of employees currently working remotely, it is inevitable that layoffs will need to be done virtually, and it is critical that these separation meetings be done individually whenever possible. A one-on-one meeting signals that you respect the employee and value their contributions to the organization. Even under normal circumstances, a layoff is often a period of emotional, financial, and psychological upheaval; issues that are sure to be exacerbated by the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic. It is important that employers are mindful of the challenges that will be faced by former employees and approach separation meetings with empathy and compassion.

Keep communication consistent, honest, transparent. It is crucial for companies to disseminate news of a layoff in a uniform way. When conducting a separation meeting, state the message simply and clearly. Be as transparent as possible about the reasons behind the job loss, listen and respond to the employee compassionately and appropriately, and provide information about career transition and outplacement services you may be offering. Whether it’s virtual coaching or personal branding tools, RiseSmart found a 25-percent increase in positive sentiment among individuals who had been offered outplacement services, and 92 percent of individuals offered these services found them helpful in securing a new job.

It is also critical to communicate honestly about layoffs to remaining employees. Transparent messaging about your business’ decisions will make employees feel valued and help maintain trust in the company.

All leaders face making difficult decisions about their workforce during this period of social and economic uncertainty. How they navigate these hardships could impact the business for years to come. If business leaders can show compassion, consistency, honesty, and transparency throughout the process, not only for the sake of the outgoing worker, but for the morale of current employees and the long-term reputation of the business, they can minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.

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