Navigating Layoffs with Empathy and Dignity

Navigating Layoffs with Empathy and Dignity

Navigating Layoffs with Empathy and Dignity

Recently, I’ve been talking with C-suite clients seeking my guidance. Many companies are considering downsizing amid economic uncertainties, looming elections, and rapid technological advancements.

Telling someone they’re being downsized is always challenging.

It can feel awkward to communicate that message even if you know it’s the best business decision.

In discussions with my clients, I’ve noticed that their corporate scripts often lack the elements needed for leaders to deliver the message with empathy and dignity. Your organization’s delicate handling of this challenging process must reflect its values.

Here are five strategies for managing a layoff with empathy and dignity. When I was a senior executive at Macy’s, we were closing retail stores annually and undergoing organizational change. I shared these strategies with my clients to deliver uncompromising news, allowing the employees to receive it more positively. I helped several of my clients in these organizations rewrite their scripts.

1) Be Direct and Clear

With widespread news of downsizings in the Wall Street Journal or you’ve already had layoffs in one business sector, employees anticipate changes. When holding a downsizing meeting, be clear and prepared to deliver the news directly. Often, when leaders get nervous, they become too verbose. Keep it short and sweet.

2) Know When to Pivot from the Script 

Many of the scripts I read are written in business speak. As the messenger, you need to know when to go off script and talk from the heart. Let them know how much they have contributed to the organization.

3) Show empathy 

We all react to change differently. Losing your job is one of life’s most stressful events and can affect your mental and emotional health.  You never know how certain people may react to this kind of news. Listen to them and let them share their emotions with you.

4) Offer Generous Support

While providing a job reference may be difficult if your organization advises against it, many of my clients have massive networks. They can connect people within their network or be an excellent sounding board for those considering new career paths.  Your knowledge of their skills and abilities can inspire new job market opportunities.

5) Watch Your Delivery Style 

Though this is a business decision, your tone and delivery matter. Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Avoid sounding scripted. Tailor the message to reflect your voice. Having worked closely with your team, you know your team best, so adapt your style to deliver the message effectively.

Like every leader, I dread these conversations, but they are part of leadership. We all dislike downsizing good people. While these five strategies won’t remove the pain, they can make the process more humane.

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