How to Make Layoffs as Compassionate as Possible

Amidst a growing global COVID-19 crisis, companies in every industry are preparing themselves to react to the potential of an economic recession and creating contingency plans in case they need to proceed with a reduction in force (RIF), or layoffs.

Whether you’re actively assessing your needs or just gathering information for Q3 and Q4, here are five things compassionate companies don’t do – and five they do – when making layoffs:

The 5 things compassionate companies DON’T do:

  1. Don’t fake enthusiasm. It’s no secret that COVID-19 is disrupting employees’ everyday lives. False positivity will only amplify the unease, so skip the regular newsletter in favor of a direct and honest company-wide memo.
  2. Don’t wait for the weekend. There’s no “pain-free” day to give bad news, so don’t wait for Friday. Once you’ve made a plan and feel confident it’s time to lay someone off, put the plan into action.
  3. Don’t share the news impersonally. While no one should take a layoff personally, it is someone’s livelihood, so it is a personal thing. Be sensitive to that and be as warm and supportive as possible throughout the process.
  4. Don’t make it a surprise to everyone. During times of uncertainty, it’s critical that the flow of information is consistent. Key members of your leadership team – such as the individual’s direct manager – should be in-the-know before you announce a layoff.
  5. Don’t improvise. Depending on your industry and the circumstances around a layoff, there may be legal requirements you need to meet to avoid a future lawsuit. Consult with your HR team to develop the guidelines for every layoff conversation.

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The 5 things compassionate companies DO:

  1. Do share as much information as soon as possible. Whenever possible, explain the thought process your team is using to make layoff decisions, such as a percentage estimate of the reduction in force you might need to make or when you expect to have a final decision.
  2. Do provide as much severance and continued benefits as possible. When it comes to severance and benefits, real compassion – and your company’s reputation – is in the follow-through. Time your layoffs so that you have enough budget to offer as much support as possible in the form of financial assistance and life and medical insurance.
  3. Do provide real career support. Avoid vague promises to support an employee through their transition. Offer real career support to employees, like preparing an “offboarding packet” with information about potential job connections, community resources, and your reference information.
  4. Do lay off in groups. If you have to lay off more than one person, do so all at once and ask them to leave the same day. It sounds harsh, but it’s easier for remaining employees to cope with one big blow rather than a slow drop over time.
  5. Do keep communicating. Layoffs can reverberate for some time among remaining employees, as no news is no longer good news. To support productivity and avoid as much voluntary turnover as possible, continue updating employees on the company’s plans and financial position once or twice a month.

If you’re preparing your company to make layoffs, you’re not alone. You may not have control over who says at your organization, but you do have control over how they experience their layoff. Use these tips to make sure you’re as supportive and compassionate as you can be in this situation.

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