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Layoffs: how to support your workers after letting them go

Layoffs are difficult for both employees and employers. Learn eight empathic, practical methods companies can use to support outgoing workers without sacrificing their bottom line.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

layoffs: how to support your workers after letting them go

Laying off employees can be one of the hardest decisions to make as an employer. Which bears the question, how do you support your workers after letting them go?

With layoffs happening across the spectrum – especially in the tech space, most recently with Microsoft announcing 11,000 layoffs and Alphabet (Google) letting go of 12,000 – it’s a question many employers are asking.

In short – no employer likes to go through a period of layoffs. It’s worse for those affected – they come into work one fair Monday morning, and are brought into HR and given their walking papers, and they’re back home in time for lunch but without a job. It can be a real blow to anyone’s ego and confidence.

Those being let go will talk among their peers; those who remain will be wondering how they can carry on or if they’re next on the chopping block. It’s your duty to support them as an employer. Empathy can only go so far.

There’s no “good” way to conduct layoffs, but there are ways in which you can ease the damage it’ll cause for both those who were let go and those who are remaining.

Here are 8 ways in which you can best support your workers after letting them go:

1. Offer severance pay and benefits

When you lay off a worker, you’re basically cutting a core means of survival via their income and benefits. Offering severance pay and benefits to your laid-off workers is a common strategy for many companies – with some severance packages extending to a full year or more.

Severance can be a single lump sum payment, extended health insurance coverage, or ongoing paychecks for a set period as above. Some companies even guarantee pay up to the point the laid-off employee secures a new job.

And Google itself offered a healthy severance package in its round of layoffs, as CEO Sundar Pichai described in an open letter to employees – in short, the package includes 16 weeks of pay plus two for every additional year at Google, plus full 2022 bonuses and remaining vacation time, and six months of healthcare, job placement, and immigration services to those affected in the US.

2. Connect them with outplacement services

Outplacement services are designed to support laid-off employees in finding new employment. These services typically include career counseling, resume writing, and job search assistance. Some companies may even provide outplacement services on-site, which can be more convenient for your employees.

The owner of product review site GadNets.com, Andre Flynn, champions this approach.

“Offering an outplacement service that helps a departing employee transition to a new job or career is a critical component that ought to be included in mass layoffs,” Andre says.

“The majority of the time, outplacement services guarantee a cordial breakup of a working relationship and can be financially and emotionally advantageous for all parties.”

You can likewise provide your laid-off workers with job search resources including job boards, career counseling services, headhunters, job fairs, and more.

Be sure to package all this information beforehand and encourage them to take advantage so they can land on their feet as quickly as possible.

3. Be honest and transparent

When your employees – both past and present – can see the reasoning behind layoffs, it does help. Be honest and transparent about why you’re letting them go, and what steps you’ve taken to mitigate the situation.

This not only alleviates negative feelings and helps protect your company’s reputation in the long run, it also builds trust and understanding among your remaining employees.

Ryan Dunn, the founder and owner of the online custom sticker/apparel venture Custom Stickers, implemented the practice of OBM (Open Book Management) from the beginning, and this has helped in the case of layoffs.

“Every employee kept track of the company’s finances and how to keep up the score. During the financial crisis faced after inflation and due to fewer funding sources, tough decisions had to be taken, like laying off employees,” Ryan explains.

“This matter was discussed […] directly with the employees as they kept track of the finances. Some agreed to be laid off while others accepted a deduction in salary. Laid-off employees were given generous severance pay and the process helped in maintaining the reputation of the company.”

Former HR professional Emily Chipman of Rusman Consulting Solutions also spoke to the value of transparency when layoffs happened at her workplace in the Arizona government in 2007.

“They clearly and succinctly walked through every single step they had taken, how they came to the conclusion that there would have to be layoffs, what options they had considered and weighed, who they had counseled with, etc.,” Emily says.

“The Auditor General spoke with heart, compassion, and yet was succinct and clear in sharing what they were legally required to do, what the budget would allow, and all of the options they had tried to consider to save people’s jobs.”

4. Support their mental health and well-being

Job loss is regularly listed alongside breakups and loss of a loved one in lists of the most stressful life events. Not only does it put people in a financially difficult position, the “rejection” aspect of it can be debilitating for many people.

Providing mental health and well-being support to your employees in the form of counseling services, support groups, gym memberships, and even apps can help alleviate the stress and anxiety of being laid off and help employees move forward to their next chapter with greater confidence and ease.

This also applies to those who are still at your company – they’ve lost their friends and colleagues and may be feeling uncertain about their own professional future with you. This can be mentally challenging when they have work to do. They’ll need your support here as well.

5. Keep in touch

Keeping in touch with your former employees sends a powerful message to them – it tells them that you care about their well-being and that you have valued their contributions to your company.

Inform them of any job opportunities that may come up in your industry or even in your own company in the future, check in regularly with them to see if there’s any way you can help them get back on their feet, and ultimately, make it clear that you are available and accessible as an employer.

6. Give professional references

Layoffs don’t happen due to performance issues. So, it makes sense to give those employees references when they apply for new jobs. Explain to them that you’re willing and able to do that for them as needed, whether it’s in the form of a phone call or a letter, to highlight your former employee’s skills and accomplishments with you.

Not only does this help them get ahead more quickly when being evaluated for a new opportunity, it also reflects well on your company as a supportive and responsible employer that values people.

7. Introduce them to job training programs

Sometimes layoffs happen because of redundancy in an industry or a skill set – in which case, a former employee may need to develop new skills and certifications to stay relevant and competitive in the talent market.

You can support them here by arranging job training or education programs to increase their employability, help them find new jobs in related fields or even transition to new industries. Another aspect of this is identifying existing transferable skills that prove valuable in a new position in a different field – for instance, a journalist’s refined skills in story ideation, interviewing, researching and storytelling can apply to a new career in content marketing.

8. Build networking opportunities

You can also support your laid-off employees by arranging events or online platforms where they can connect with other professionals in their field. Everyone knows someone, so to speak.

It’s no accident that those let go post announcements of their newfound availability on LinkedIn and team managers also share details of their laid-off team members to support them in their next venture.

You can do something similar as an employer, and even encourage and train your managers and executives to create similar announcements to distribute via their own networks.

Support your people

Ideally, you don’t want to have to lay off employees. But, sometimes, you have to to survive as a business. It’s the nature of the beast.

As an employer, there are many ways in which you can tame that beast, and reduce the damage being done not only for your company but also for those you’ve just let go.

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