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Layoffs: Handle with Care

We are happy to have Deborah Herman as our guest blogger today.  Deborah is “Your Recruitment Business Partner” at DH Talent Strategies, LLC in Pompano Beach, FL. She’s a blogger at, and a HR professional with 20 plus years of director-level experience in staffing, marketing and employment communications. Deborah is also proud to serve as a District Director for HR Florida State Council.

Layoffs, Downsizing or Restructuring – no matter what you call it, just handle it with care.

Handle with CareLike many of you out there, I am in career reinvention mode. Some of the work that I am doing today is nothing like what I was doing two years ago. Some people get freaked out about that but I seem to gravitate towards things that force me to change and grow. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. I have my moments of self-doubt and occasional regret where I’ll look at myself in the mirror and yell – “what did you get yourself into this time!? But I fear staying the same more than I do change. Call me crazy.

That being said, my reinvention journey has taken me down the outplacement services path. Over the years I have come to know a lot of folks who work in outplacement – but my recent experience has given me a glimpse into this industry from behind the scenes. Losing your job is one of the most stressful life events that can happen to you (next to getting divorced or having a loved one suddenly pass away). So when I read A Lesson from AOL – How Not to do Merger Layoffs, I was flabbergasted.

There is no perfect way to do this. How you go about the process is going to depend on your unique set of circumstances. However here are some of the best practices that I have learned over the past several months:

Have a plan.

Think very carefully about who you let go and for what reason. There are a myriad of legal issues that can rear their ugly heads to bite you if you’re not careful. Have an understanding of how this layoff will impact each and every employee but don’t assume you know how he or she will react. They may surprise you.

Treat people as you would want to be treated.

Forget about hiring someone like George Clooney in “Up in the Air” to do your dirty work – do it yourself. People should be treated with dignity – no exceptions. And please NO group layoffs – this is not American Idol!

Plan what you will say.

Be acutely aware that a terminated employee’s behavior is significantly influenced by the tone, style and manner of their notification. The initial tone, once set, is very difficult to change. Managers should be trained to avoid major traps such as being defensive, arguing or dredging up history when communicating layoff decisions. Prepare answers in advance to questions your employees may ask. Make sure that the employee understands that a final decision has been made – leave no room for doubt.

Give them the tools they need.

The rules are totally different for job seekers now, so the best thing you can do for your employees is to offer outplacement services. Have your partner there on site so that as people are being told, they have the option to stop in and talk to a neutral party right away. More than likely you will be laying off individuals who are at different stages in their career so avoid cookie-cutter programs when possible. And if the employee is staying on for a certain amount of time to assist with the transition, give them the option to start their outplacement program right away. Allowing them a little company time to be proactive with their job search prepares them better for when their time with the company finally comes to an end (and they’ll work harder because they know you care).

Layoffs are unavoidable, but how your organization handles it will become part of its legacy for years to come.

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