Nobody looks forward to delivering the news that one of their employees is getting let go. Still, presiding over layoffs is a part of leadership, and what you say, or don’t say, when you lay someone off can have an impact on the future of your company. Treating your employees with dignity when you have to lay them off is an art, and it warrants careful thought.

Communicate Directly

According to the Harvard Business Review, when delivering bad news, it’s best to be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Let your employee know that you have some bad news, and then let them know the reason for their termination. If you have a good working relationship with the person, this is the time when it’s appropriate to offer any severance you’ll be offering them and the details of their termination. If you have outside contacts who can help them get back on their feet, sharing this with them can help soften the blow. This isn’t required, but it’s the humane thing to do.

Practice Ahead of Time

When people get laid off, their reactions can span a broad spectrum. If possible, try to think through how they’ll react to the news ahead of time so you are ready to respond to them compassionately and professionally. Listen with empathy, but don’t fall into the trap of arguing or justifying your decision to them. If they want to discuss the justice of the decision, offer to schedule a meeting in a week to do so. Chances are, by the time that week rolls around, they’ll be calmer and more at peace with the news anyway. And finally, if they cry — and some of them will cry—make sure you have tissues available.

Timing Matters

Regardless of laying people off, timing matters. While there’s no perfect time to deliver the news, having the conversation on Friday can help provide some time for people to cool off over the weekend. If you’re shutting down an entire department, consider letting the whole team know at once. That will prevent rumors from being spread and allow them to process the news collectively.

Nobody gets to the top by “firing right,” but the way you communicate with employees in times of adversity matters. If you’re struggling with the decision to let people go, it might help to remind yourself: A hard decision now might be the price you have to pay to be able to continue to employ your most treasured team members. 

by: Charles Jackson,
AFEUSA President

Charles Jackson President AFEUSA