7 tips for partnering with HR on layoff communications

Close partnership with HR is one way to make this rocky road a little smoother.

Layoffs are one of the most difficult jobs for any manager. Whether it’s letting go of a single team member or leading the communications strategy for a mass reduction in force, the personal consequences of business decisions are never more clear.

Adding to the challenge are the many ways communicators can get it wrong. Close partnership with HR is one way to make this rocky road a little smoother.

Your HR colleagues are directly involved in layoff conversations with employees, but they also hold the keys to information that can help the company avoid brand-damaging mistakes and costly litigation.

Here are seven tips for working better together:

1. Highlight tools to find internal jobs. 

A mass layoff may happen even as the company is hiring for a number of open roles. Communicators can partner with HR to highlight internal opportunities that may even make a layoff unnecessary.

Redeploying talent is more cost effective than hiring from the outside, not to mention more humane to those whose jobs are at risk. The average cost per new hire is nearly $4,700, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, but can exceed three to four times the new hire’s salary when accounting for costs like time managers spend onboarding and training new hires.

Make sure HR has updated the internal job board and that the comms department is actively sharing those roles in advance of potential layoffs.

2. Take a hard look at DEI data. 

Ask HR to provide a list of employees who will be let go so communicators can assess the impact on DEI. From a legal point of view, it’s important to review the demographics of the layoff to assess its impact on protected classes of employees, according to employment attorney Jon Hyman.

“You may have legitimate reasons why everyone who was included to be laid off was laid off,” he said in a webinar on the HR Exchange Network. “But if your workforce looks a lot whiter after the layoff than before the layoff, you’re going to have to explain it. You might not want to have to go to court to justify why you got rid of every single black employee you have.”

Whether the effect is real or perceived, a layoff may also undercut the company’s stated values around inclusion and equity. Communicators should get involved in this conversation early to address potential challenges. Besides the internal pushback, this could also easily become an external issue, so be prepared.

3. Assess the impact on remote workers. 

While not a protected employee class, remote and hybrid workers have formed their own distinct workplace identity. If layoffs will disproportionately affect remote workers, consider messaging to reinforce the company’s support for remote and hybrid work.

That’s assuming targeting remote workers wasn’t intentional. Although it wasn’t stated directly, that appeared to be the case with Wayfair’s recent job cuts, according to multiple reports, an outcome the company’s CEO foreshadowed when his memo instructing employees to “work harder” went viral. If the organization’s stance toward remote workers is changing, make sure that’s clear too.

4. Review union contracts and labor relations policies. 

HR and comms should work hand in hand when it comes to the rules governing labor relations in your jurisdiction. Many European countries provide levels of labor protection through works councils that may surprise North American-centric companies.

In the U.S., labor unions have notched significant wins in recent years that added complexity to layoff procedures. Workers at the University of California are represented by 16 unions, each of which has a separate contract. The university has documented plans for layoffs and accompanying forms and letters related to each agreement.

For more information on how to access the full  story and become a member of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council, reach out here.


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