Dealing with Layoffs during the Pandemic
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to expand, the damage done to the job market looks ever more likely to be deep and long lasting. Worldwide, managers are not only dealing with the stress and remorse of having to let go a number of their co-workers, but many of them will also be feeling an underlying anxiety about their very own positions. If laying off employees is the only way to keep the business going, how do you handle feelings such as guilt, remorse and sadness? What is the best way to deliver the news when you can’t meet face-to-face? What do you say to the employees that have made the cut? And what can you do to overcome the fear about your own future?
Normally, layoffs have mostly been cut and dry with showing off as little emotion as possible. They were carried out in such a manner that made employees feel like they were just another number due to how they were being treated. Obviously, the difference between a good layoff and bad layoff is all about how they’re handled.
Layoffs that are being done during this uncertain period of time should not be any different than the ones that were normally done, there shouldn’t be any discrepancies. Many organisations make spontaneous decisions to fire their people due to fear and uncertainty. It’s only after they’ve sent their workers packing that they recognise they have made a mistake. This leads them to mass rehires afterwards. To prevent this from happening, companies should first evaluate their cash flow to see whether layoffs are the only way forward.
What the Experts Say
Firing people is difficult in normal times; but given the Covid-19 health crisis, the task is “emotionally and cognitively overwhelming,” says Joshua Margolis, professor at Harvard Business School. He continues by stating: “This experience for most of us is unfathomable. There’s a great deal of uncertainty and people’s minds are whirring. As a manager charged with dismissing a wide swath of employees, you’re pulled in different directions: Your heart goes out to people, but you have a responsibility to the company.” Furthermore, the tension that employers are experiencing right now is at least doubled given that they are worried about their very own fate. Kenneth Freeman, Dean Emeritus at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business has said: “You’re human and you’re going to have a lot of those anxious moments. But the key is to try as best you can to separate your personal worries from the task at hand. In your role as a manager, you need to be there for your people.”
Are layoffs required?
If you’re the one making the decisions about layoffs, Margolis recommends asking yourself one question: is downsizing your workforce truly necessary? The impulse to cut costs is understandable, but this is not a recession that takes place every few years. Significantly, this pandemic will live in the memory of people for years to come and the psychological impacts of it are yet to be comprehended at their full capacity. As a leader, you are required to show resourcefulness, creative forward thinking about how your company can save as many employees as possible. Talking with the management team and discussing every other possible alternative is also an important, logical step to make. Firing people should represent a last resort kind of situation and if you absolutely have to do it, try and avoid multiple rounds of letting people go.
If you decide layoffs are necessary or others have made that decision for you, then make sure you’re prepared before you reach out to the affected employees. Figure out what and how to say to each and every one of them. Talk to them on a personal level. People are likely going to have a lot of questions regarding the why, the timing, their benefits, and severance package (if applicable). These conversations may need to happen fast, but you’ll have a better chance of easing both yours and employee’s anxiety by providing them answers of what happens next. Reach out to HR, your legal department, and any other senior leaders who might be able to help you prepare answers to questions such as: When will I receive my last salary? and Am I receiving an unemployment benefit?
Communicate Openly and Often
Be honest. Transparent, open and timely communication help increase employee trust instead of them being blindsided. Companies should organise constant meetings in order to hand out valuable information and address any existing concerns. Due to the pandemic, organisations should use online video conference apps such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Maestro or Tele-Town Hall. While employees have the option to call in or attend without video, leaders are recommended that they keep their cameras turned on. It helps create a more human experience.
Communication during a crisis should never be spontaneous and should always have a plan. In fact, it’s crucial that everyone, from leadership to management, is on the same page and wants the same things. Otherwise, employees will receive paradoxical information that can lead to distrust and rumours. Leadership should take the time to explain how the business is currently being impacted, what changes are there to be made and why. When employees understand the why behind the decision it increases their trust in the company and doesn’t take a toll on their self-confidence or increase their anxiety levels.
The worst possible thing imaginable that an organisation can do is blindside their workers and conduct layoffs through email. If in-person isn’t possible, given the social distancing requirements we all have to follow, employers should opt for video calls instead. Furthermore, they should be proactive in providing their now ex-workers with options for them to move forward such as unemployment benefits, a severance package or other benefits. This helps put employees’ minds at ease regarding survival and the next few steps.
Lead through Empathy
This is a sensitive time for many. While it is understandable to protect the company, the layoff process usually lacks the empathy and compassion needed during a stressful time.
Therefore, employers should lead with empathy when laying off their workers. Employees will remember how they’re treated during this time. If they’re treated poorly, they’re more than likely going to speak poorly to their network and through online reviews about the company and their experience. Consequently, when business picks back up again and the company is hiring, they’ll struggle to win over quality talent due to a damaged reputation.
Be direct and human
The message you present to them must be crystal clear and concise. For example: “I’m sorry, but at end of the month we are going to terminate your job.” By communicating this information directly, it may come off as a tad cold but it actually allows the employee to have a grasp of the whole new situation he or she is in. It is vital that you express your recognition for all of their hard work and dedication. Afterwards, explain to them that they are being laid off due to the exceptional economic climate we are all in and that it has nothing to do with their job performance. It’s important that at the end of the discussion your future ex-employee feels appreciated and loved.
Focus on your wellbeing
Last but not least important, take care of yourself. If lucky, this is the only time managers will have to face something of this magnitude. However, it is highly unlikely it will be the only time managers deal with a challenge during a period of great uncertainty. Although it may sound like a truism, the best coping mechanism there is when things are uncertain is self-care. Try and eat as healthy as possible, exercise regularly, try meditation or yoga, get a good night’s sleep and read a good book in your spare time, do not change the screen from your laptop to your phone, disconnect. We are all together in this situation, nobody is alone. The problem here is to make people understand that they are not alone whatever their specific circumstances are.
How can Great People Inside help you assess your ‘remote working’ workforce?
Given our current situation knowing that your colleagues or employees are best suited for this new scenario we find ourselves in. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It is now important to find out whether your managers or your team is well-equipped of working together from various locations. It requires deep knowledge of their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you discover if your people are resilient during times of hardship, if they are autonomous, if they are team players, without actual human contact. Given that our platform is cloud-based, everyone can use it from home as well. Humanity finds itself at a crossroad for various reasons now, why not help people discover and develop themselves from the comfort of their own homes?
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