No one goes into human resources because they like delivering bad news. And yet many circumstances arise in business in which it’s HR’s job to share it, whether it’s the loss of a big client or the spread of a global pandemic like COVID-19 – or both.
In an increasingly unstable business environment, many businesses are running up against the reality that a decision must be made and employees must be laid off. In fact, Union Square already announced a layoff of 80% of its workforce. If that’s your situation right now, here are three scripts that can help you share the news as compassionately as possible.
"We want to be as clear and transparent as possible. We’d rather be up front about the situation to give people some amount of certainty. I've been at companies where founders were super opaque about what was going on, and that helped no one prepare." – Small Business Owner
Layoff Script #1: Focus on transparency
What to say: “Thank you for meeting with me today. We looked at creative ways to reduce expenses and extend our financial runway through this hard time, but after a lot of thinking and effort, we’ve had to make the tough decision to lay off 30% of our staff here. That means we’ll be letting about [# of people you’ll be laying off] go, and unfortunately that includes your position with us. This is because we’re [eliminating your role or letting go of the most recent hires, whatever is most accurate], and it’s going to give us the runway to [continue to support our clients with as few resources as possible, or extend our runway another 6 months, whatever is accurate].”
Why it helps: Information is power, especially in a situation where employees feel uncertain about the future. Understanding the “why” behind the layoff can give employees peace of mind as they start a new chapter of their professional lives. They may still feel upset or disagree with your decision, but at least they will have access to as much information as possible about how the decision was made.
Layoff Script #2: Focus on next steps
What to say: “As you know, COVID-19 is having a dramatic and unforeseeable impact on the economy. Our business is experiencing this no differently – we’ve been impacted in the areas of [customer retention and losing clients.] We reviewed many contingency plans in an effort to not have to make any layoffs at all, but unfortunately we realized we do need to lay off [our most recent hires], which includes your position. I know this is not easy news to receive and it may have a significant impact on your life in the next few weeks. To help support you during this time, we’ve made arrangements for [as much severance as the company can afford] and we’re [extending your benefits as long as the company can afford]. Our expectations for today and the next few weeks are [that you’ll return to your desk and pack up immediately, or finish out the week in transition]. Your last day of work onsite will be [today], and your last day of employment will be [as determined by what the company can support].”
Why it helps: Understandably, layoffs can make employees feel a little lost about what to do next. This is especially true in circumstances of economic upheaval like the current business environment. Focusing the layoff conversation around next steps, such as benefits and compensation and the plan for the rest of the day or week, can help employees feel in control of making a plan for what to do next.
Layoff Script #3: Focus on performance
What to say: “I asked you to meet with me today because I have some difficult news to share with you. Because [we’re eliminating your role, or letting go of the most recent hires, whatever is most accurate], we need to lay you off effective immediately. This is no reflection of your high-quality work, which we’re happy to validate as a reference as you apply to new jobs. We think you have incredible potential in [your area of work] and we know you’re going to go on to do great things in your field.”
Why it helps: Even though business isn’t personal, it often feels personal because it affects your employee’s livelihood. Directly referencing the current COVID-19 pandemic – or any recent emergency – as the cause for the layoff and pairing with a complimentary evaluation of an employee’s performance can help employees avoid seeing the layoff as a reflection themselves or their skills.
Layoffs are always challenging to implement, even more so in an unstable economic climate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider which of these scripts will resonate most with your employees and work with your HR team to have this conversation in the most compassionate way possible.