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Lay-Offs: This Is Exactly What You Don't Want to Do

No boss ever wants to conduct lay-offs, but sometimes downsizing is necessary. Here's how to stay professional when delivering bad news.
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This week, Ohio newspaper the Plain Dealer made headlines when it laid off 50 editorial staff members-- over the phone.

No boss likes to downsize his or her staff, but there is a right and a wrong way to deliver the bad news. Hint: A phone call at 8 a.m. on a work day is the wrong way.

Here are three tips from the Inc. archives on how to conduct a graceful layoff.

Do it face-to-face.

It should go without saying that sensitive conversations need to be conducted in person. "Usually the employee's immediate supervisor (plus one more person) tells the employee of the job elimination," says Richard Deems, head of the Scottsdale-based workplace consulting firm WorkLife Design

Company executives should then be visible and ready to field questions, fears and commentary from any remaining employees, adds Deems.

"If after a downsizing employees see the top leaders still in their offices, with the doors open, and out walking around, they come to the conclusion: Hey, everything must be going to be okay or they would have ducked out the back door by now," he said.

Rally the (remaining) troops.

A dip in morale is almost inevidible after a layoff, says organizational psychologist David Javitch. But you can minimize the damage to your remaining employees by opening up a transparent and earnest conversation.

He suggests that you allow for a question-and-answer session after you announce most big news. Taking suggestions for how to improve the situation makes employees feel engaged in the process, Javitch says. You can ask: "What would you do in my shoes?"

"Let them be problem solvers," he says. "They're more likely to adhere to what the solution is."

Not only that, but your abilty to handle even the bad times with professionalism will reassure your remaining employees that they don't need to jump ship, too--meaning they can get back to work, not scramble to update their resumes.

Go the extra mile.

A little bit of compassion goes a long way, and helps you to control the fallout of a bad situation. Don't let employees find out about a layoff from security guards waiting to escort them from the premesis, says Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers

Her suggestion: Have tissues and bottled water in the room when laying off an employee, or arrange for a car service to drive distraught personnel home after the big news.

Remember, how you treat employees--even at the end--will reflect on your reputation as an employer, adds Bruce Hurwitz of recruiting firm Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.

"What a lot of business owners don't realize is that their laid off employees, since they are going to primarily be looking for jobs in their own industry, will be visiting the competition," he says.

"A bitter employee reveals information that they would not do under normal circumstances. It's not criminal or unethical- it's just human. A non-bitter employee may be just as angry at having lost their job, but when they meet with the competitor there will be no bitterness, and they'll speak well of the employer (or at least not critically)."

IMAGE: Stuart O'Sullivan/Getty
Last updated: Aug 2, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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