How to Begin the Layoff Communication: Delivering the News & Mitigating the Risks

HR Manager standing in front of a group of his employees, starting the conversation about layoff communication.

Posted on

March 20, 2020



Sometimes letting people go is the only way to move your business forward. Still, no matter how much thought goes into the decision to conduct a layoff, and no matter how right of a move it is, the termination conversation is never an easy one. These situations are not comfortable, and tensions can quickly escalate. After all, job loss is one of the top five stressful situations people endure.

That is why it’s important to be mindful and well-prepared during layoff communication. Joyce Domijan, VP of Strategy and Program Development at Intoo, and Caroline Vernon, Regional Director of Sales at Intoo, hosted the webinar, “How to Conduct a Layoff, A Scripted Guide”, to walk us through what to say and how to stay cool throughout these challenging, yet necessary, conversations.


Layoff Communication Checklist 

Know the circumstances. Be familiar with what lead to the decision that called for the elimination of the position. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to answer employee questions.

Develop a script. Take time behind the scenes to develop an outline that can help guide you through the conversation.

Address both affected and unaffected workers. Know what you’re going to say to both the laid-off employees and the retained workers. Let standing employees know why the elimination happened, so they are more comfortable about the security of their own positions.

Provide HR and outplacement resources. Cover employee benefits like COBRA, 401(k)s, and outplacement service information, if your company provides that benefit.

Expect and prepare for tough questions and emotional reactions. Anticipate common questions and be prepared for unexpected reactions.

Determine who should conduct and/or attend the meeting. You don’t want to have someone the employee does not know conduct the layoff. Normally, it’s best to have the direct supervisor or manager of the department involved.


What and What Not to Say

Give employees time and breathing room during the layoff meeting, as they may be surprised or emotional. Have tissues on hand, and don’t rush through what you have to cover. Refrain from reacting or being defensive, and don’t interrupt the employee. Take a pause, stay quiet, maintain the focus, give them silence if you’re backed into a corner, and avoid clichés.


Here’s what to say: 

1. Open with a greeting. Be sure to speak slowly and calmly. 

“Thank you for meeting with me.”

2. Get to the point. Avoid small talk and let them know why they are there from the start.

“I called this meeting to inform you your position is being eliminated. We do not have another position in our unit for you. This means you are being laid off and will work with human resources on your exit strategy.”

3. Give an official notice. This is a document that should detail all of the information and action items an employee will need to take.

“Here is the official notice for you to review.” 

4. Give rationale for the decision. Whether it’s because of a reorg, acquisition, or change in direction for products, you will want to have a summary ready of how you came to the decision.

“As you may know, we are in a time of reorganization. Although we’ve done everything possible to minimize the impact of these changes on our department, we still need to implement some very difficult decisions.” 

5. Allow the employee to ask questions. Give the employee time to read through the initial notice and process everything they have heard.

“I know this is difficult news. Is everything I’ve said clear to you?”


Here’s what not to say: 

“It’s not the end of the world,”

“Consider this a blessing in disguise.”

“The glass isn’t half empty, it’s half full.”

“It’s just a job.”


Prepare for unexpected reactions

Despite efforts to prepare, challenges may still occur when you are dealing with raw human feelings. Some people may demand to speak with the decisionmaker, threaten a lawsuit or other formal action, or break down emotionally. In such cases, show compassion and respect, actually listen, and refrain from interrupting before getting the conversation back on track.


Layoffs in the Age of Employer Reviews 

Employer reviews claiming poor treatment of employees, clients, and candidates pose the biggest threat to talent attraction. In fact, Intoo’s Employer Branding Study found that 90% of job seekers say reading reviews of poor customer or employee treatment would negatively impact their likelihood of applying. In addition, 80% of employees say they would consider switching jobs if they witnessed their collogues suffer poor treatment or management at work.

To mitigate negative reviews, consider offering outplacement services to exiting employees to help them find new jobs quickly. In addition, your organization can provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help workers through times of personal challenge.


Layoff communication should not be focused on paperwork and instead on the human in front of you. Watch part 2of the webinar, “How to Wrap Up the Layoff Notification: Handling Emotional Reactions, Talent Risks, & Brand Impact,” to better understand how to prepare for the unexpected.

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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