Note: This article contains spoilers about the TV series, “Succession.”
Reductions in staff are difficult situations to manage and experience, and the layoff announcement plays a large role in how the news is received and how your organization is perceived. So what’s the right way to announce a layoff? Hint: Not the way it’s done on TV’s “Succession.”
On the popular show, the Roy family owns media conglomerate Waystar Royco. While the family’s leadership styles are questionable in many areas, Kendall Roy displays a spectacular lack of decency in a memorable scene in season 2, in which he fires nearly the entire staff of one division of the company following an acquisition. While this display of unfeeling, poor management makes for great television, it would have damaging results in the real world.
Let’s take a look at the right way to announce a layoff.
How Do You Announce a Layoff?
In “Succession,” Kendall enters the offices of Vaulter, which is bustling amid the inability to work.
“Some of you may have noticed servers are down and we’re setting up a satellite office on 7 and I’m afraid I have to inform you, you are all dismissed. Yeah, you’re all fired. So if you can leave your laptops where they are and your passes, security will be coming around now. You have 15 minutes to gather your belongings and exit the building. Separation agreements will be handed around shortly. One week of severance per year served with full nondisclosure. You post your little videos, you get three days. Unused vacation days will not be reimbursed. Health benefits will be terminated at the end of the month.”
– Kendall Roy
The abruptness of this announcement causes a number of problems. Vaulter’s employees are in an open space and don’t have the opportunity to privately react to the news. Some hurl objections and insults. Others take out their phones to record Kendall.
In the age of social media, handling a layoff in this manner can damage an organization’s employer brand, ability to hire and retain employees, and even its reputation with its clients and consumers, which can result in a drop in sales. It should be obvious, but don’t be like Kendall. Here’s what to do instead.
1. Notify staff in advance, if possible
Employees deserve transparency around the business’s financial health and what it means for their employment. Once you know that layoffs are impending, let your workforce know to expect them and provide the reason for the cuts. It’s important to deliver this news both in meetings (whether in person or remotely) and in writing (or by email), so that you can be sure every employee has the same information. If your layoff impacts 100 or more employees, you will also need to consider the WARN Act and ensure you follow both the federal and local requirements. See below for a layoff announcement template.
2. Consider the best time and place to make the announcement
It’s best not to deliver the news in an open area, as Kendall does, as doing so doesn’t allow employees to privately process the information. Carefully consider the time and place of the announcement to minimize disruption and to allow the impacted employees the space to hear and respond to the news. For example, avoid laying people off on their birthdays or around holidays. And choose a space or room that prevents passers-by from seeing or hearing the meeting.
3. Be sincere, respectful, clear, and firm
Kendall’s blank stare and words convey a lack of empathy for the workforce he’s gutting. While it’s generally a good idea to keep the messaging of the layoff announcement brief, enough detail should be offered to minimize questions and to communicate appreciation for the gravity of the situation and its impact on those affected.
Express that you understand the severity of the impact of the layoffs, and that you are grateful for the employee’s contributions. Make it clear that the decision is final.
4. Allow time for questions
While Kendall did briefly explain the reason for the terminations (with a single statement about how only two verticals are driving revenue), he didn’t leave any time for employees to respond or ask follow-up questions, which was likely intentional. However, this brusk approach can lead to speculation and rumors if employees don’t feel like they have adequate information.
Even if one major announcement is made to the entire staff, employees should be allowed contact with their managers or department heads to ask questions before they are dismissed. Taking the time to thoroughly explain next steps at a time of high anxiety can help to calm employees and give them some piece of mind about why they were chosen for elimination, and whether they will be receiving any help with their transition.
Be prepared for a variety of reactions by having a script with answers to common questions handy.
5. Offer benefits to help impacted employees move forward
It’s always a good idea to include information about benefits in the layoff announcement, although Kendall’s delivery leaves something to be desired (as does the package itself). While these benefits may differ depending on the employee, mentioning that further information about severance, healthcare coverage, and outplacement, will be provided can eliminate some fear and questioning. The information provided to employees individually, then, should be complete with details around the last paycheck, vacation payout, insurance and COBRA, and outplacement assistance.
If you are offering outplacement to help employees find new employment, having representatives available to provide an orientation on the services can shift your workers’ mind frame from dwelling on their terminations to considering their next steps.
Often employees’ minds will race after learning the news of their terminations. Therefore, it’s a good idea to provide the information in writing as well as verbally, so that they can review it again later when they can more easily process it.
Layoff Announcement Template
To: All employees of [Company Name]
Subject: Important Announcement – Organizational Changes
After careful evaluation of our business operations, market conditions, and future goals, we have made the difficult decision to implement a company-wide reduction in workforce.
We understand the impact this may have and want to assure you that we have explored alternatives and will provide support during this transition.
Eliminations numbering [number] will begin on [date]. Information on which roles are affected and the process for selection will be shared at the end of this week. Impacted employees will receive detailed information on severance, ongoing benefits, and career transition assistance.
We are committed to treating everyone with respect and fairness throughout this process. Our Human Resources department is available to address any questions or concerns.
We appreciate your dedication and contributions to [Company Name].
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
How to Make a Layoff Announcement
With proper preparation and sensitivity, it’s possible to make a layoff announcement while minimizing the negative impacts to both employees and the organization. By following the steps above, you can avoid making the mistakes seen in “Succession” and preserve your brand’s reputation.
This article is part 3 in a series of learnings from the TV show, “Succession.”
Main image: HBO
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