How to Approach Layoffs During the Holidays

Nobody wants to be a Grinch this time of year, but when it comes to layoffs many companies become exactly that.

Layoffs right before the holidays in and of itself isn’t bad, after all there are a host of reasons to lower the overhead before the start of a new year, but it’s the how that can have a lasting impact on your company.

“Layoffs are a harsh fact of life,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners–Innovative Career Consulting in Denver.  “How a company handles them is crucial.”

If a company is in layoff mode, chances are morale is low to begin with. Embracing harsh lay off polices can only worsen that sentiment. Undoubtedly there are some companies that care only about the bottom line and forget about the human side of the business. Those often are the ones that will escort their laid-off workers out the door on the spot and won’t offer any type of severance or job support for their terminated staff. Often says Ruhl, it’s a culture issue and that treatment of employees isn’t likely to change.

But for the vast majority of companies, that actually care about their employees, even former ones, there are ways to cushion the blow. From providing enough notice and offering severance to being compassionate, here’s a look at five ways to do it.

Give enough notice and severance

Nobody wants to be blindsided by a termination, particularly around the holidays, which is why Patricia Sweeney, human resource manager at Old Colony Hospice and Palliative Care, says employees need to be given enough notice of their impending layoff. That means you shouldn’t wait to the day of or even a couple of days before to let them know their fate. If the company can swing it offering some form of severance will go a long way in building goodwill.

Adopt “compassionate downsizing” policies

When it comes to downsizing you want to make sure you do it in a kind way and that is where Ruhl says compassionate downsizing comes in. It not only covers how the employee is told but what kind of support services, such as outplacement, are available for the terminated employee. “There are a lot of business reasons for supporting departing employees,” says Ruhl. “Reduced likelihood of litigation, shorter time on unemployment roles and increased morale for the people left behind knowing the company is trying to help those affected with support.”

Consistent communications throughout the year

Unless you are doing a round of layoffs, terminating an employee shouldn’t come as a surprise even if it happens before the end of the year. According to Rose Miller, president of Pinnacle Human Resources, smart companies will communicate the job requirements, responsibilities and possible termination information at the start of employment as well as during their tenure and when they are being let go. “Employees doing their jobs should be told.  Employees failing should be told they are not meeting expectations and management should be able to explain why,” says Miller.  “Good HR practices give employees a clear roadmap to success or a clean path to the door. “

Act when a termination is necessary

It’s understandable to want to hold off on letting someone go until the holiday season is over but that may backfire if the person deserves to be terminated. Dragging you’re feet thru the holidays can not only give the employee more time to do damage to the company but it can also be worse for the person getting canned. “Of course, firing someone before the holidays feels cruel because you have ruined their holidays,” says Ruhl.  “However, firing someone right after the holidays can be seen as more cruel because then they are left with the expense of the situation. Gifts, dinners etc. purchased thinking that they were in a stable situation. Getting fired stinks, period. No matter when it happens.”

Get your legal ducks in a row

Bad feelings are to be expected when someone gets laid off. Do it around the end of the year and those bad feelings can quickly turn sour. Which is why it’s important to have your legal ducks in order. That means knowing the real reason for the termination, checking with the legal department to confirm the employee’s status and having the updated termination documents at the ready, says Sweeney. What’s more, she says to document everything that went down during the termination meeting and it possible have a witness on hand. “Regardless of the circumstances, there is truly no “nice” way to soften the blow,” says Sweeney.