5 things you must communicate during a layoff

Layoffs are horrible for everyone involved, but there are a few ways to make them a little less painful. Above all, be honest.

While the economy seems to be on the mend, there are still many companies struggling to remain solvent. As such, companies that cannot find ways to cut back are moving to lay off employees.

Layoffs aren’t easy for employers or employees. No one wins in these situations. The only upside is the business will extend its life at the expense of employee jobs.

There is a way to somewhat ensure assumptions, gossip and miscommunications don’t make an already difficult situation worse, and that is to communicate truthfully and regularly.

Be as honest as possible

In business, we talk a lot about being transparent. A layoff is one of those times where preaching about transparency will not help—you have to act the part.

As a manager, you may not be able to divulge all the information regarding a pending layoff. However, once you start to discuss the potential for layoffs and request employees justify the necessity of every task they perform, you open a Pandora’s box of worry.

Worry becomes assumptions and assumptions become gossip, all of which are catalysts to employees commiserating in the bathrooms and hallways. Their discussions lead them to distrust management and become disenchanted with both the business and work.

Ask yourself what you would want to know if your boss said layoffs were coming and could affect you. How important are the details of the layoff that you can’t be honest with your employees?

Remember, you manage adults. Adults have bills to pay and families to care for, and as much as they complain about their jobs, they need their jobs. Communicating effectively during a layoff requires you to be empathetic, truthful and timely.

Here are five tips for communicating during a layoff:

1. Meet with your team members to notify them of potential layoffs .

There are times for email, but this is not one of them. You have a difficult message to deliver. A face-to-face meeting allows for an open discussion of the information and any concerns.

2. Be ready to answer questions about how the layoffs will affect individuals .

This will require you to take off your manager hat and be a human who understands (to some extent) how this affects your staff.

3. Don’t share details with anyone outside of your staff.

The worst thing you can do is tell your team members you have no further details on how cuts will affect them, only for them to find out through the grapevine that there is more to know.

The employee-boss relationship can be sticky. If the higher-ups have sworn you to secrecy, don’t get caught voluntarily sharing information you haven’t first shared with those it affects—your staff.

4. Don’t let long periods of time lapse between updates.

Even if you haven’t heard anything new, report back to your staff. A layoff is a situation where people presume any news is bad news, and no news isn’t good, either. Keep your staff up-to-date even when there is nothing to share. This will at least make your staff feel like you care enough to keep them updated.

5. Be truthful.

If the plan is to cut 10 percent of employees, tell your staff so. It is all in the delivery. You can simply say:

“Senior management has called for a 10 percent cut across the board. This doesn’t necessarily mean any of your jobs are in jeopardy, but we are evaluating all possibilities at this time. I know this is a difficult time for all of us-especially you, the employees. I need you all to continue to perform as you normally would, and I will continue to keep you abreast of this situation. I am here to individually discuss any concerns you have.”

Who can argue with that kind of communication?

You can make many employee situations or dilemmas easier with effective communication. Very often employers think that the employee-employer relationship is a one way partnership where the employer primarily benefits. If employers shift their thinking and understand that the relationship is about reciprocity, they will be able to connect with their employees on a more human level—especially during difficult times such as layoffs.

Janine Truitt is the chief innovations officer for Talent Think Innovations, LLC, and founder of The Aristocracy of HR, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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