A ‘Humane’ Approach to Layoffs

How you manage or treat employees during layoff speaks volumes for you as an individual and as an organization. Other than it is difficult, we need to be cognizant that it is sensitive too. The merit of the discussion and the way it is executed, if done loosely, can have a huge negative impact and at times also lead to the mental disturbance for the one on the receiving end. A layoff can be as a result of performance or business shut down, whatever the reason, it is critical that we deal with them in the most effective and considerate manner.

Let us look at a few components to help deal with layoff and be graceful and humane about it.

Power of Empathy

It begins here! A genuine acknowledgment of the impact of layoff and what that potentially means for the employee goes miles in how we ultimately communicate and importantly behave. If ever the adage of ‘put yourself in other shoes’ were to be true – it certainly applies to this situation. Be aware that what you say and how you say it will either make it bearable for an employee or do some damage at some level – Be respectful!

Power of Honesty

It is of utmost importance that we are honest in talking about the following and sounds genuine as we share

·     The reason for the layoff 

·     The clear timelines associated with it 

·     Severance offered (if that is the case)

·     Alternates if any and what support you can offer 

All the above not only makes it a more informed announcement for the employee but it also goes a long way to avoid any rumors around the sensitive subject. 

Power of Choice of Words

Imperative we pick and say the right words. Words that can still spell confidence and allow layoff absorption in a meaningful way. While you want to be direct to the point and not beat around the bush as that does not help, you still want to leave the employee encouraged and hopeful to look to the future. Emphasis on:

·      Giving optimism for future opportunities

·      An act of blessing in disguise

·      Self-belief and ‘not the end of the world’

Keeping positive words on the forefront hovering around the above theme is the right thing to do!


Power of Support

As an HR you should leave no stone unturned to provide all the possible support that you must. It is one of those executions for HR where we need to be at our very best, stay calm, composed and collected in both thoughts and actions. HR must look to plan everything that is within your scope of control in a dignified way.

·     Look inward for lateral movement 

·     Look outward to connect for an opportunity 

·     Make a personal referral to your close acquaintance 

·     Support of reference letter with merit recognition 

·     ‘Buy time’ for the employee to the maximum possible (inform at the earliest and keep the last working day as distant as you can)

This also helps with forging a rapport (perhaps for the long term) and even in this difficult decision, you can leave most employees as your organization’s promoters. As for other employees, it helps to know that your company made the best efforts for the affected employees in this stressful time, uplifts their faith, respect and confidence in you as an employer.

Power of Patient Listening

It is important that we keep our ears open to listen attentively and soak in the frustration which few employees might naturally vent out. They could feel undone by the announcement and not have the mindset to understand the situation. A good listener will help mellow down the reaction – be one!

Power of Experience

It is not the act itself, but the experience associated with it that converts certain events to be etched in our memory lane for a long time to come and possibly even forever. It pays a dividend to do our best to negate the negative experience. On the other hand, if you make efforts to turn this difficult face-off into a cordial experience, you convert such cases to possibly your strongest promoters for yourself and your organization. Possibility of employees who voice their experience on social media and vouch for your credibility can soar your reputation as an empathetic employer.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

It is important to mention this dimension too. HR must own the responsibility for a situation where possible future layoffs can be predicted. This could be due to factors like – new technology & automation making some job profiles redundant, shrink in business landscape or shortage of skills in the current employees for what’s to come soon. In such predictive awareness, HR could then put measures to tackle layoffs to the minimum if not avoid it completely. This can be done by:

·     Putting L&D programs to upskill resources 

·     Promote internal mobility 

·     Work on new career paths 

·     Help explore the association with other business domain 



To bring it together

You can choose to deal with executing layoff in 2 ways:

1. Be careless, blunt and worst still show arrogance or

2. Be empathetic, be human and treat the overall situation as sensitive

Layoffs are difficult, as HR one must take the pain to deal with it in the utmost professional and graceful manner. This is one element where we can put our ‘human’ component to best use and be fair, respectful and be by their side as practically as one possibly can!

P.S. – Never ignore Karma, we can find ourselves on the other side of the table too.


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Kenneth Wheeler

An HR-L&D professional with 16 plus years of work experience, Kenneth has an obsession to curate an eNPS culture, build an agile Learning architecture to boost the future-fit workforce. Awarded as 101 Top HR Minds (India) 2019 and a certified NLP coach, he is a well-rounded expert in Envisioning, Strategizing and Leading a robust gamut of HR and L&D framework, contributing to both MNC (Wipro & Arvato) & Start-up ecosystem (Ola, LogiNext). A Leader with high Agility & Adaptability quotient, he is passionate about achieving business results through people by imbibing a collaborative work methodology.

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