Shopify announced it would lay off about 10 percent of its workforce, and the company chose to do this via an impersonal method: email.

First, CEO Tobias Lütke sent an email to the whole company, signed tobi, which informed employees to look out for a second email that would tell them Shopify had eliminated their position.

This is not how you lay off employees. This is not how you treat people who have worked for you--some for many years. One former Shopify talent sourcing manager posted on LinkedIn that 

It's been a tough week for so many incredible people. On Tuesday, I also learned (via email) that I had been laid off from Shopify, along with my entire team. I'm still feeling the punch to the gut, but will join in sharing my update. 

Almost all layoffs come like a punch to the gut, but it can be even worse when they come via email. I asked a Shopify spokesperson to clarify if people were really told via email, and she simply directed me back to tobi's email.

Here's why you don't lay people off this way and what you should do better.

Email is not reliable for instant communication.

I can literally go for hours without checking my email. People who need me immediately know that text is the way to reach me. I suspect that this is the same for most people.

While it's undoubtedly true that as soon as the companywide email came through, people were texting and messaging about it, you're putting something essential and time-sensitive into a format that people no longer use for time-sensitive information.

At least they sent it via company email, unlike the Mom Project, which turned off employees' computer access and sent emails to their personal email accounts informing them that they no longer had jobs.

You have to know that all affected employees received your messages. Email--even with read receipts--is not the way to do it.

You're changing someone's life. Have the guts to do it face to face.

No one likes laying people off. It's a horrible thing but a necessary part of business. Your employees deserve personal communication. Direct managers should be the first choice for notifying employees that the company is eliminating their jobs. You go up the chain if a direct manager isn't available. The worst-case scenario is an HR person or a manager from a neighboring department.

Yes, it takes longer than sending mass emails. But it also shows your employees that you consider each one of them as a person with feelings.

Managers don't like doing layoffs. It's painful for them. But it's one of the reasons managers make more money.

For remote workers, at a minimum, it needs to be a personal phone call. If eliminating an entire department, you can bring everyone together for one meeting, but the manager should still be delivering the message personally. 

Notify people personally, and then give details to a group.

While, ideally, both should be done one-on-one, when you're doing a large group like Shopify, you can arrange meetings to go over details. Shopify did layoffs precisely backward. The email from the CEO said:

Emails will go out in the next few minutes that will clarify if your role was affected; those impacted will then have a meeting with a lead in their team.

Let the details be done via email or team meeting. Notification should be done one-on-one if at all possible. Treat your employees--even the ones you lay off--like humans with value.

Layoffs are emotionally challenging, but you can do it the right way.

Here's the order for a layoff:

  • Managers notify employees one-on-one.
  • With a large layoff, you communicate the details with the entire group--after managers notify everyone.
  • If the group's manager is part of the layoff, that manager should be told first, and their boss should conduct the remaining notifications. Under no circumstances should you have a manager lay off their staff and then turn around and lay off that manager. 
  • Consider creating a designated hotline or Slack channel for a large layoff for people to ask questions.

Don't forget your primary goal in the layoff.

Presumably, you lay people off because it's best for the overall business. Don't do something terrible for the business by lacking emotional intelligence in how you handle it.

Laying people off via email or other impersonal methods increases the chances that they will be angry. Angry people are more likely to sue. Support people going out, and it will be a smoother transition for everyone.

Give severance when possible (or required by law). Help people apply for unemployment, and support your former employees as they look for new jobs. It's the right thing to do, and better for the business because your former employees can be your best or your worst public relations people. You get to choose.