Careful planning and thoughtful communication are critical when conducting layoffs. Communication should start with the basics of any good communication plan – prepare and share the message. The challenge lies in the delicate balance of legal requirements and emotional care. Communicating during a layoff includes these stages:
- Direct, honest messaging is imperative. The company will have messages it wants to communicate to stakeholders, but thought also should be given to what stakeholders want to hear and the answers to questions they’ll have. Anyone who is tasked with delivering the layoff message – whether to a large group of employees, a single employee, a member of the news media, an investor or another stakeholder – needs to receive this information as early as possible to begin preparation. This full-circle communications planning benefits everyone involved and minimizes the chance of confused stakeholders.
- Those delivering the message should adhere to the classic crisis communication adage – tell it all, and tell it fast. In other words – be honest, don’t sugarcoat or minimize the difficult situation and inform all stakeholders in a timely manner. Most external stakeholders will accept the message with little emotional impact, but employees will understandably be the opposite. Timely and honest two-way communication is key to helping employees through this time and will ensure continued safety, productivity and retention.
- This phase is focused squarely on employees, especially those remaining after layoffs occur. It’s important to establish a two-way communication avenue for follow-up and to continue communicating with a clear understanding of employees’ concerns. Companies should make sure managers are given regularly updated messaging and resources, and they should make it a requirement that the messaging is delivered to employees in a timely and thoughtful manner. In addition, a safe resource should be established so employees can share concerns. It is critical at this time to rebuild trust and to establish a positive path forward.
Companies that prepare in advance and implement a communication plan that is accountable to legal requirements and shows responsible care to the needs of all stakeholders will find the highest levels of success possible in this emotionally charged time.