The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was marked with high unemployment and a record number of layoffs in certain industries. Even companies that experienced an uptick in sales were forced to grapple with the pains of remote work and an increase in technology costs. If layoffs are on the horizon due to business reasons, what should you do first? Consider these tips on how to handle it with grace and professionalism.
How to manage layoffs humanely and remotely during COVID-19
First, make sure layoffs are a last resort
Letting people go should be your Plan B (or even Plan C) after you’ve tried everything possible to avoid it. Whether you cut budgets or have to get creative with scheduling, keeping your people on board isn’t just better from a reputation and morale standpoint, it will be better in the long run.
Many industries will come roaring back after the pandemic subsides. Others are already seeing help from small business loans, grants, and fundraising campaigns. If you have any hope at all that your business will eventually recover, keeping your people at your company is ideal.
Remember that the cost to rehire can be very expensive, and not just in dollars to recruit and onboard. There’s a learning curve for new employees, and they may not be as productive. A loss of morale and damage to your company culture are other soft costs that arise when you lay off employees.
By keeping your current employees working, even in a reduced capacity, you can skip the recruiting and retraining process entirely. You may even be at a competitive advantage over other companies in your industry who don’t do the same.
How to lay off remote employees carefully
What if, after everything, you still can’t continue to keep all of your people employed? It’s a very difficult place to be, but just about every business owner or human resources team faces this challenge. In light of the coronavirus pandemic being so difficult for so many people, it’s important to do things in the most caring and professional way possible.
Here are some best practices to follow.
Invest in self-care before and after
Firing people can affect managers differently, but most will feel stress or anxiety in the days leading up to it. Don’t brush off your own emotional and health needs, and how the process may adversely affect you. Get rested, take some time for meditation, or reach out to a mentor or mental health provider if you need extra support for your own well-being during this time.
Do it respectfully and over video calls
Think about how you would like to get the bad news. A text, letter, or email probably isn’t on the list. Instead, choose a face-to-face meeting where the employee can see you treating the matter with honesty and respect. Video calls are ideal during the pandemic, and it will save the affected employees the awkwardness of walking through an office after getting the news.
Schedule the call for the same day you send the invite
Employees often know when layoffs are coming, and prolonging the news is in poor taste. If you must lay someone off, set up the call just before you have it. Employees can work themselves up and feel additional stress waiting for the news. It also gives them less time to “think about” what they may say, which can reduce the chance of angry confrontations.
Stick to a script and practice
The conversation shouldn’t be long or complicated, but it shouldn’t be improvised, either. Get your message down on paper and tweak it for clarity and compassion. Practice it a few times in a mirror so that you don’t have to refer to your notes.
Make sure everything, technically works
Frozen virtual meetings or dropped calls are frustrating during a business meeting. In the middle of a layoff call, however, it can be devastating. To keep the call as drama-free as possible, test your equipment beforehand, including audio, video, and microphone. Check to see that you have a good upload speed so that you appear clear and your words are easily understood.
We’ve adapted well to discouraging kids and pets from crashing our virtual business meetings, but now it’s time to ensure your strategy for privacy is iron-clad. It would be humiliating for the employee to see a family member in the background or hear you sharing an update about what’s for lunch. Treat this situation with the dignity it deserves.
Use an encouraging and supportive tone
Even if you’re broken up about the split, try to give hope to your worker by the sound of your voice and facial expressions. Let them know things will be OK through your choice of words and posture. This is where the script practice will really come into play.
Make your reasoning clear and fact-based
While it may feel like an emotional moment, the conversation should be as factual as possible. Clearly explain that some roles are being eliminated due to the pandemic, including this employee’s position. Explain more about why they are being laid off, if it’s helpful, and also make it clear that the decision is final. Follow up by asking if they understood what you said. Repeat, if needed.
Do not make any promises you can’t keep
Once the employee is laid off, don’t continue to offer advice or claim to be able to get them their job back at any point. Even if you are privy to information about who would be hired back in the case of a recovery—or if you’re implementing furlough protocols—you don’t want to give them any documented offers that you can’t follow through on. Only make promises about outplacement like benefits, a final paycheck, or any severance package plans.
End the call with a positive tone and clear next steps
Finish strong with a compliment or a comment about how much you enjoyed working with them. Let them know what they can expect for any items left at the office, any insurance benefits (COBRA), or upcoming work commitment they may have made. Make sure they know what is required of them (if anything) and what you will do.
What to do after the layoffs
While this may feel like the hardest part, your work is not done. There are some steps you can take post-layoff to end the relationship on a professional note, as well as support them in their path forward.
Offer additional resources and letters of recommendation
It’s in your company’s best interest that the employee finds a new job as soon as possible after they are let go. It’s also in theirs. Do what you can to help move them along in the job search process, whether it’s through a letter of recommendation or access to a hiring network. Let them know that you’ll keep your ears open about relevant opportunities. Also point them to any information you may have about unemployment benefits including unemployment insurance.
Offer extra support for laid-off international employees
It’s difficult enough for U.S.-based employees to get on their feet, but what about those who are here on a work Visa or through an internship program? Do your research beforehand, so you know what struggles they may face. Have contact information available for them to pursue staying in the country or getting some leniency while they find new work. Don’t forget to reach out to your teams based in foreign countries as well, because they may also struggle with their next steps.
Don’t cut contact
You won’t need to commit to reaching out at regular intervals, but make a note to keep in touch. You must keep a delicate balance between professional and personal here, because not all employees will give you their personal email or phone number. If you’re doing mass layoffs, staying in contact may require more effort. However, consider it a much-needed lifeline for employees who considered their work a major part of their identity and success.
Open up your network
Who do you know who may be hiring? After the layoff occurs, utilize your professional networks to share the word about your best team members and how they will make a great asset for any company. Give your personal recommendation on the employee’s LinkedIn page, too. Make your support public and help spread the word about their availability.
How to deal with remaining employees
A round of layoffs can be a major downer for those staying at your company. Morale will usually suffer, and rumors of more firings can drag down productivity and turn a happy work environment into someplace very stressful. Get ahead of the layoffs and anticipate how your remaining staff will react.
What can you say to those left to help them understand why this happened? What assurances can you give that you won’t have to go back on, but that can help boost moods and keep people working? How can you put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge that the layoffs affected not only their colleagues but their friends? Use these moments of reflection to help with these next steps.
Let employees vent, if needed, and provide them with a safe space to share their concerns. Don’t insist that they must be upbeat about the layoffs when they obviously won’t be. Give them time to mourn relationships and the changes ahead for the company and their own employment. Make sure to set some kind of time limit on this part of the process, though, and try to keep the conversation focused on loss.
Be transparent about the company’s future
You’ll probably get a lot of questions about “what’s next?” Will there be more layoffs? Is the company at risk of going out of business? What new workflow changes can they expect? Know as many answers to these questions as you can, and frame them positively while being honest. If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s OK to admit it. Let your employees know that you feel the same way and empathize with their uncertainty.
Schedule 1:1 meetings for employees who need it
If there are still some workers who seem unable to move forward, set aside some time to meet them face-to-face. Video chats of just 20 minutes can make them feel heard and help them vent about their worries and frustrations. Not only can these private meetings show them that you value them, but it can limit outside chatter or toxic office gossip. Employees are less likely to talk poorly about leadership if they feel that a real connection exists, and that you’re doing your best to secure their future at the company.
Layoffs are just another ugly part of the coronavirus pandemic. Even companies that remained open are struggling with their budgets. If you don’t think you’ll need to fire anyone just yet, going through this list of options can help you prepare for unexpected and difficult decisions. The pandemic may be over before we know it, but recessions and industry changes make these particular skills valuable for everyone.
In the event that you can hire back laid-off employees, you can keep tabs on them with an updated employee file that includes data from an application tracking system (ATS) like Comeet. Want to learn more about how you can take advantage of our intuitive tools? Check out our pricing options or request a free demo today!