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Humanized Work

HR Best Practices for Managing Layoffs & Staff Changes

Layoffs and staff changes can be difficult to manage in the workplace, but they don't have to be.

Man and two Women Sitting at Conference Table

Through the last few months of 2022 and into 2023, every day brings another larger layoff announcement or reduction in force across seemingly stable companies. From the mom-and-pop shops to the Metas and Googles of the world, companies are faced with a questionable economy and uncertain future, which has led to making the decision to, unfortunately, exit large swaths of employees.  

But what is more troubling are the numerous accounts of these announcements being handled indelicately or, worse, downright terribly, especially when letting employees know whether they still have a job, salary, or benefits. 

Layoffs and staff changes can be difficult to manage in the workplace for many reasons. Businesses must maintain a delicate balance between preserving employee morale and ensuring the organization's financial stability, and often times there isn’t a lot of time spent determining the best way to do just that. To balance these concerns, HR departments must remain proactive about developing effective strategies for managing layoffs and staff changes, even before they may come to light. 

Communicating Effectively | HR Best Practices 

One of the most critical aspects of managing a layoff or any other form of staff change is providing adequate communication throughout the process. It is essential to ensure that all affected employees are informed clearly and accurately about how these changes will impact their roles. This includes employees remaining with the business, as well as ones who may act in transition for a period of time. In addition, it is important to provide timely updates on any further developments and decisions made during the transition period. Allowing for frequent dialogue among management, affected employees, and their teams can help make this process smoother, as well as helping to improve morale. 

When communicating changes, leadership should speak with employees in a private space, ideally 1:1, as opposed to in a group setting, if feasible. A human resources team member may need to be involved in these conversations to address questions like benefits continuation and unemployment filing, something that should be agreed with management in the pre-planning stage. 

It will be important to recognize employees’ contributions to the organization, explain why layoffs are occurring, and provide employees with resources for career development opportunities. Employees should be informed that all changes are confidential and that the human resources team is available for future meetings as needed to be sure employees are supported during a transition. 

Employee Reactions | HR Best Practices 

When an employee learns that they may lose their job, chances are they will feel shocked, especially if they didn’t see it coming. The employee may say nothing when confronted with the news, or they may become upset.  

The reactions may include: 

  • Shock
  • Silence
  • Negative work attitudes
  • Accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Decline in productivity
  • Grief
  • Helplessness

That’s just to name a few. Then, you’ll also have to handle reactions from remaining employees, who may respond with shock, anger, frustration, guilt, insecurity, or resistance to organizational change. 

What to Keep in Mind as a Manager | HR Best Practices

Managers should prepare for all of these potential reactions when announcing an organizational change or layoffs to respond accordingly with minimal psychological repercussions. There should be a workshop/huddle for all leaders who are communicating to employees to give them the tools and support they need to have the conversation, versus relying on very stressed-out leaders to talk to other stressed-out leaders to get tips on how to have the conversation. HR should organize training in advance to enable leaders to share their thoughts, concerns, and feelings in a safe space and also learn together what consistent tools they should use and what the talking points are. 

Additionally, managers need to take care of themselves and handle their own anxiety ahead of difficult or uncomfortable discussions. Managers who may have to break bad news should reach out to supervisors or managers who may have had similar experiences and be sure to maintain open lines of communication. Managers should also work closely with the human resources department to ensure all organizational policies are adequately followed and all employees are protected sufficiently. 

Maintaining Organizational Transparency | HR Best Practices 

When it comes specifically to layoffs, a few additional steps should be taken for them to go smoothly. Companies should always aim for transparency when deciding who will be laid off by outlining clear selection criteria such as seniority or performance reviews instead of making arbitrary decisions based on personal preferences or biases.  

Furthermore, offering outplacement services such as career counseling or resume building can prove invaluable in aiding those who have been laid off to find new opportunities elsewhere while continuing to contribute positively to society as a whole.   

Overall, layoff situations can still prove challenging even with an effective strategy in place due to its disruptive nature; however, businesses that employ best practices in managing these staff changes can significantly reduce associated stress levels while fostering improved morale among remaining employees at all times—both crucial components for any successful business model today. 

Minimizing the Effects of Reductions in Force | HR Best Practices 

Reductions in force (RIFs) are, unfortunately, a part of doing business. Successfully managing a reduction in force requires careful planning, thoughtful communication, and empathy toward those affected by the change. As such, HR professionals need to take a holistic approach when approaching a RIF.  

This means evaluating internal and external factors that could impact the decision-making process, including economic trends in the industry, changing market demand for products or services, legal implications of certain decisions, and employee morale. Furthermore, it may be helpful to consult with other departments or outside experts to gain further insights into the potential impacts of a reduction in force. 

Layoffs are never easy, but they can be made a little bit easier with the proper HR best practices in place. By following these tips, you can help your employees through this difficult time and ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. Remember to keep communication open and be supportive of your team – they’ll need it during this tough time. 

Lisa Letizio (she/her)

We humanize work for everyone because we know it creates better outcomes for humanity and business.

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