How communicators can infuse empathy into layoff or furlough announcements

You can save your company’s reputation by helping execs craft compassionate messaging—and by advocating for affected colleagues.

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Announcing layoffs is unpleasant in normal times. It’s especially difficult during a pandemic.

Complicating matters, news may be delivered virtually due to social distancing rules. In many cases, temporary layoffs are termed furloughs. Employees typically keep benefits while on furlough and hope to return to work when normalcy returns. Nonetheless, announcing furloughs is still a grim task.

Announcing layoffs now is “emotionally and cognitively overwhelming,” Joshua Margolis, a professor at Harvard Business School, told Harvard Business Review. “This experience for most of us is unfathomable,” he says. “There’s a great deal of uncertainty, and people’s minds are whirring.”

The CEO typically informs employees of layoffs with guidance from HR departments. But it’s essential for communicators to be involved in the process to advise the CEO, help craft the announcements, and safeguard the organization’s reputation. PR managers must take into account three constituencies, writes Gary Grates, principal at W20 Group, in PR News.

Those groups are:

For large employers, a public announcement may also be necessary.

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