The Best Ways to Communicate Layoffs to Employees
Mass layoffs are a harsh reality of today’s economic landscape. And while the jury is still out on whether layoffs improve long-term profitability, there sure is enough research to prove the detrimental affect layoffs have on employer brand, employee trust and most importantly, the psychological welfare of those impacted.
One study found that having any kind of personal contact with layoffs is found to be associated with less job security and more symptoms of poor health, depression and eating changes.
As internal communicators, the choice to downsize isn’t within our control.
However, the way it lands with employees – those let go and those who remain after the dust settles – is not only within our purview, it’s often times our responsibility.
In case you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to plan the communications strategy for a mass layoff (AKA reduction in force or RIF), here are five pointers to follow to make sure you’re leading with empathy and mitigating long-term damage.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCES
Before you begin planning messaging, think about the groups that need to hear about the layoffs beyond those directly impacted.
Be sure to especially consider those who will share the responsibility for operationalizing the transition (e.g., HR business partners, managers, functional leads and IT). Most of these audiences will require preparation and training to understand what’s expected of them and how to field questions.
2. START WITH WHY
While different audiences will require distinct messaging, all audiences will need to understand the “why.”
This is your key message – the one that can make or break trust and perception – so it’s critical to be open, honest and humble. Discuss what other measures were taken to prevent the layoff. If there were missteps made that led to the decision, own them.
When Stripe reduced its workforce by 14% in November 2022, CEO Patrick Collison sent an email to all employees saying that he and his co-founder were fully responsible for the decisions leading to the layoffs. He acknowledged that they over-hired and weren’t able to deliver the experience that they had hoped for.
3. COORDINATE A RUN OF SHOW
There are many touch points to coordinate leading up to, during and immediately following a mass layoff, and there’s a lot that can go awry if not properly managed.
Just like you’d develop a run of show for an all-company meeting or event, create a document that breaks down the activities and timing surrounding the announcement. It should detail everything from trainings leading up to the layoff, to timing for individual and all-employee meetings, to technology shut-off for affected employees.
4. STAY FOCUSED ON THE AFTERMATH
As communicators and HR professionals, our primary role after a layoff takes place is to re-engage the remaining workforce and mitigate attrition. One study found that a layoff affecting 1% of the workforce led to a 31% increase in the rate of voluntary turnover.
In the days following a mass layoff, communications should focus on the go-forward strategy and provide a compelling case for why people should stay. Consider hosting another all-company meeting or functional meetings to outline changes, answer questions and provide resources to support the transition.
5. Proceed with caution
Remember to approach what comes next with empathy and sensitivity – and advise your leaders to do so as well.
While leadership may have had weeks or even months to prepare for the layoffs, your “survivors” are still processing what’s happened and grieving the departure of their colleagues. How you communicate, listen and respond matters just as much, if not more. Here are some resources to help:
- Supporting Employees Who Remain After Layoffs (SHRM)
- How to Support Your Remaining Employees After a Layoff (Harvard Business Review)
- How to Attract and Retain Talent When Big Techs and Fintechs Layoff Staff (Forbes)
- 5 Tips to Help Employees Maintain Healthcare Coverage After Layoffs (Benefit News)
- Layoffs Are Bad for Everyone’s Mental Health: Here’s How To Deal (Fortune)
HOW WE TREAT PEOPLE MATTERS
As Stripe CEO Patrick Collison said, “There’s no good way to do a layoff, but [do your] best to treat everyone leaving as respectfully as possible” and do whatever you can to help.
In recent months, there have been companies that have gotten praise for how they handled a mass layoff, and others that have gotten a brutal reputation. Which do you want to be?
If you’re in the position of having to create a communications strategy around a mass layoff, center your efforts on trust and transparency and make sure that the company’s actions follow suit. And if this is new territory and you need a thought partner, we’re here to help.