Ease the pain, learn how to break the news of a layoff


Letting workers go can be one of the toughest jobs that a manager has to perform. Given the fact that it has deep emotions involved along with legal constraints, it makes the job even more complicated. More often than not, it is also a cause for some serious stress among those who are at the helm of affairs of a company.

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People often interchangeably use the term ‘layoff’ with ‘getting fired’, but there is one slight difference. While ‘getting fired’ means letting a worker go for a reason, a ‘layoff’ refers to a termination of employment based on economic reasons and usually involves more than one employee. Companies that decide to take the layoff route do it to make themselves more profitable or to help the company out of a hole that they have fallen into. Unfortunately, every company at some point of their lifespan, faces the need to downsize itself, resulting in some drastic and heartbreaking moments for both the parties involved.

Although alternative strategies like freezing the hiring process or making pay cuts can be implemented before the last resort – the layoff – sometimes situations just escalate quickly.

Not knowing how employees will react once the possibly life-changing news unearths is a crucial cause for anxiety that often transcends into guilt. Given the complexity of the task, both emotionally and legally, here are a few ways that managers can use to handle the situation better, and if possible, make it a little more bearable for the employees.

Go personal

It is usually recommended to personally inform the affected employees behind closed doors, personally, before the news breaks out at large. This news can, and will, be a shocker for most. But rather than making it look like a ‘bunny jumping out of a hat situation’, letting them know beforehand allows them to process the news better and give them time to reevaluate the situation.

Most divide the church and state, often radically, when it comes to breaking news like this. But managers must keep in mind that it’s a personal issue for those who are impacted. An impersonal approach on a delicate matter like this one often does more harm than good. Remember, these people have to face their now ex co-workers as well as move on.

For example, after a tile making company based in Ohio, USA, Summitville Tiles, decided to announce a layoff, the managers of the plant along with the HR managers took out time to discuss the future and benefits of unemployment with the effected workers with a bid to ease the pain.

Be honest

When going into such a cold task, don’t go unprepared. Expect some backlash. In such an icky situation, as a manager, one must be as transparent as possible. Be completely honest in explaining why that person is getting laid off. It is important to let them know that this lay off is not a reflection of their reputation or the company’s impression of them. It’s very natural for the person on the receiving end to conduct a self-assessment that leads them to think of what they could’ve done differently to avert the situation and where they went wrong. Adopt the ‘problem lies in me, not you’ method to slip in the real facts.

Doing this not only makes sure that individuals can process the situation better but it will also help them move on faster.

Unemployment is a huge blow to anyone, be it the manager, the employee or even the company. It’s a major issue that needs to be addressed with utmost care and compassion. Failing to do this can have major repercussions on the reputation of the company, giving it a bad name. Every manager who has to perform this unfortunate deed must keep in mind that these are people with emotions, people with homes and dreams that they are dealing with.


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