Communicating Layoffs to Employees: How to Wrap Up the Layoff Notification

young man sitting on a ledge in front of a sunset listening to a webinar recap on communicating layoffs to employees.

Posted on

March 27, 2020


Layoffs are rough—for all parties involved. And communicating the message to impacted employees is never easy. In the first half of this two-part series about communicating layoffs to employees, Intoo’s Joyce Domijan, VP of Strategy and Program Development, and Caroline Vernon, Regional Director of Sales, provided listeners with a scripted guide to help them better communicate during a notification event.  

Joyce and Caroline teamed up again for the second half of the series: the “How to Wrap Up the Layoff Notification” webinar. Here’s what they shared about how best to conclude these tough conversations:

Answering the Why, Who, and What-If Questions

Exiting employees are bound to have feelings and questions about the elimination of their position. They may look for the reasons behind the decision and bargain in the hopes of a more favorable outcome.

Typically, three types of questions—why, who, and what-if—are likely to be asked by exiting employees. These are hard questions to answer, but preparing for them in advance can help you deliver the best response. When communicating layoffs to employees, always relate back to the big picture message—the company’s outward-facing reason for the removal of jobs. Assure them that the decision was not made hastily and that the top levels of management were onboard. And try to make it about the future needs of the company as much as possible.

Listen to what the employee has to say. Try to be empathetic, but don’t feel the need to answer questions that you are not equipped to address. 

How to Handle Emotional Reactions 

You may never know how a person will take difficult news, but you can prepare for various reactions in advance. When communicating layoffs to employees, refrain from answering defensively and pause before you respond. If an employee is very emotional, ask if they would like to take a break and restart the conversation later, or if there is someone you can call for them.

Here are some common reactive behaviors and a cheat sheet for how best to handle them:

Anger: Listen and stay calm.

Tears: Be patient and supportive.

Silence: Acknowledge and discuss their feelings.  Make sure that they understand the message.

Threats: Allow easy access to exits for the employee to leave if necessary. Keep calm, and take breaks.

Denial: Rephrase your message, ask open-ended questions, and empathize.

Preventing and Being Prepared for Violent Reactions

Layoffs should be conducted and prepared for with caution. So, consider if heightened security measures are necessary throughout the time of notification events and for a period of time after these conversations take place.

It is wise to avoid private manager meetings after exiting employees have been notified. It’s also important to note that careful background checks when employees are first hired are paramount to your team’s safety from the first day to their last.

The best defense for these kind of reactions is to have a violence prevention program. This will allow for employee training that can help them recognize behaviors that often precede violence. It will also encourage employees to report suspicious or threatening behavior and outline procedures for immediate action against a threat.

Identify experts in threat assessment and security to use in the event of a potentially dangerous situation.  Further, having an outplacement consultant on site while communicating layoffs to employees can help. These individuals are trained to listen and show compassion toward exiting employees and may be able to deescalate a tense situation.

The Next Steps

Notification events should be short—only lasting about 15-20 minutes—so to help move things along, pivot to what the future holds:

1. Outline what is up next: “At this point, I need to discuss with you how you will leave the department and the resources and assistance that the company will make available to you to assist you in transitioning.”

2. Provide resources: “We have prepared an information package that will be helpful as you transition. It provides you with information about your severance and your next steps in the process.”

3. Offer a follow-up: “I understand that this might be a shock, but I would encourage you to review this information as soon as possible. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to [name of contact].”

Benefits of Outplacement for the Employee 

Outplacement assistance can offer an existing employee support and reassurance during and after a layoff notification. Outplacement services, which generally include career coaching and other transition support, can help a job seeker land a new role more quickly than individuals who choose to go it alone. Intoo users, for example, secure positions 2.5 times faster than the national average.

Communicating Layoffs to Employees Still at the Company 

It’s important to understand that your remaining employees may also be emotional throughout this time. Address employees as soon as possible after a layoff event. Keep your messaging consistent and thank them for their continued support. Discuss how workloads or responsibilities may change and be accessible for questions. Remember that these employees may be losing friends, so be empathetic. That being said, avoid making any promises or guarantees. Now is not the time to overcompensate with assurances you may not be able to keep.

Mitigating Talent Poaching 

Competitors may increase their efforts to take your customers and top talent during a layoff. To combat this, design an “anti-poaching strategy” for if or when rumors of a layoff begin to surface. Consider aggressive counteroffer measures to keep top talent at your company. You can also craft strong messaging to competitors stating that your company doesn’t take poaching lightly. Coach and mentor employees during this time to reduce anxiety and keep communication transparent. You could also consider creating retention agreements or offering cash bonuses paid later, but earned throughout a time of change.

How to Retain Exiting Employees as Customers 

Former employees don’t have to become former customers too. Maintain respectful relationships when communicating layoffs to employees. Ask them for their feedback to show that you value their opinion by scheduling an exit interview. And provide adequate severance and outplacement services if you can.

Intoo’s Employer Branding Study found that employees who were provided outplacement services were three times more likely to continue purchasing the company’s offering after a separation event. Maintain your employer brand and support your employees with Intoo’s outplacement servicesSchedule a demo today to learn more.

INTOO Staff Writer

INTOO staff writers come from diverse backgrounds and have extensive experience writing about topics that matter to the HR and business communities, including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more.

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