CEOs often say they make decisions purely on the basis of business. So it's no surprise that when layoffs occur, leaders give very little thought to showing extra kindness to employees.

Take how General Motors (GM) handled layoffs during the 2018 holiday season. Before announcing 14,000 job cuts, GM did offer buyouts to some employees. But it chose the holidays to make the announcement -- a time when people want to rest and celebrate. Little of either took place because a corporation made a strategic move over a humane one.

That's why I was encouraged to see what Ford just did. In a recently announced restructuring plan, the car company noted it would eliminate 7,000 white-collar jobs, including some buyouts and voluntary exits. That's obviously not ideal. But what the company did immediately afterward showed surprising kindness.

When Ford CEO Jim Hackett announced the layoff plan, he made it clear the company has always said goodbye to employees in a traditional way. Leaders would speak to those affected, and require they immediately pack up and leave the same day. This time, Ford showed a little humanity. Hackett said people would be given a few days to wrap up work, collect their belongings, and say goodbye to colleagues.

The fact that Ford's leadership showed concern here makes me feel just a tiny bit better about corporate America these days. Hackett even said in a memo to employees, "Ford is a family company, and saying goodbye to colleagues is difficult and emotional."

This serves as a reminder that small acts of kindness can help during difficult situations. Here are some ways to inject more kindness and humanity into the situation when layoffs occur.

Share your personal struggles and flaws as a leader

Leaders often set themselves apart from the rest of the organization as a way to establish authority or credibility, especially during emotional times like layoffs.

A more human approach is to share the personal side. Discuss your strengths and weaknesses as well as show emotional intelligence during employee interactions related to layoffs. Tell stories that show you understand what it means to work for your company as a person. Revealing personal flaws and difficult emotions shows kindness and accountability for the layoffs, rather than leaving people feeling as though they're to blame.

Kindness means being transparent and forthright during layoffs

Employers often keep tough news, like layoffs, secret in part because of fears that employees might alert the competition or media. Then, at the very last minute, they spring the bad news on the team.

A more humane strategy here is to acknowledge issues when they arise and reach out to workers in advance to alert them to dramatic changes. Use town hall-style meetings for in-house staff and video feeds for remote staff to make everyone feel involved. It sends the message that the company realizes they have a right to know rather than leaving them to imagine what's coming.

Evolve the company culture

Company culture is often related to how employees are treated. Do your team members feel like cogs in a machine? Maybe you isolate them or you don't encourage work-life balance. You should change the circumstances here well before you maybe have to deal with tougher issues such as a layoff.

Every employee is a unique person with varying likes and dislikes. Show greater kindness by understanding there's more to them than what they do for your company.

Reframe your company's set of values around human qualities and needs. This includes compassion, empathy, creativity, respect, diversity, and health.

Use regular internal communications to emphasize the value of taking time off and the importance of family and personal time, including highlighting various employee accomplishments outside of work. Change work processes to allow for greater team rotation and flextime, which shows employees there is plenty of opportunity to take vacations. Give them opportunities for professional and personal development.   

It's having this company culture in place that may ease the pain of any bad news that you have to deliver in the future, such as a layoff. Knowing that you treated them well in the past may give them the confidence that they will be treated similarly during these tough situations.  

Kindness means never forgetting the human factor

Business is about more than making money. It's about having a passion for something and looking for ways to help others. Without that, you'll find yourself feeling remarkably empty as a leader. Create a beneficial environment for the skilled human beings who make up your company. You'll not only boost your bottom line, but also give yourself more motivation to work hard each day.

Published on: May 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.