With talk of a possible recession and economic instability around the globe, corporate layoff announcements seem to be on the rise. A few days ago ford confirmed the reduction of 3,000 jobs. Apple has quit around 100 recruiters as it braced for a hiring slump. Wayfair reported a loss of 870 jobs as it reacts to falling sales.
While the common adage seems to be ‘nobody wants to work anymore’, as many retail and hospitality sectors suffer from staff shortages, many companies are anticipating downsizing. According to a recent PwC survey“50% of companies expect an overall downsizing, while 52% expect a hiring freeze.”
How a company handles notification of a layoff can impact not only its current workforce and prospective employees, but also its overall reputation. And many companies are not optimal at dealing with layoffs. Leaders claim they believe in transparency and empathy, but they don’t always get it right.
Take the story over Braden Wallake, the 32-year-old CEO of HyperSocial. He went viral after posting a picture of himself Crying on LinkedIn after the dismissal of several employees. The public did not embrace Wallake’s plight, as he had probably hoped. This is just one of many ways layoff communications can go horribly wrong.
“No matter how hard this may be for those responsible, it is far harder for those who lose their jobs,” said Anne Green, director and general manager of G&S Business Communications.
Internal communication: respect, timing and technology
News travels fast, so employees should be the number one priority during a layoff — which should be obvious, but doesn’t always happen that way. Cat Colella-Graham, Employee Experience Leader, says leading with empathy and respect can protect the privacy and mental well-being of those affected.
“I always recommend humanizing through town halls, then small groups led by managers with managerial leadership,” she says. “Do not proceed directly to composing the email. Explain what, why, and what’s next, and leave room for questions and answers. And if you don’t have an answer, say so.”
Green notes that while time is always of the essence with such messages, speedy delivery isn’t always the best option. Allow time for dialogue between employees and employers.
“Keep in mind that the ‘most efficient’ or ‘most expedient’ way of approaching layoffs is often not the best way when it comes to communication, but also in terms of culture and simple humanity,” says Green. “Try to have one-on-one interviews with every person who is discharged, unless the scale is such that it is operationally impossible.”
Speaking to people as individuals can cement the respect they deserve, even in a difficult moment, and help remind the employee that it is not their fault that the layoff is taking place.
Additionally, Rick Lyke, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Public Relations and Public Affairs at Mower, reminds communicators not to use technology as a crutch during difficult messaging.
“Things are complicated in today’s remote work environment,” says Lyke. “A lot of people have been hired via Zoom calls, so downsizing via video call can feel almost natural. However, it is important that layoffs are handled humanely and with respect for the employee.”
Dealing with external communications during layoffs
Identifying stakeholders such as shareholders, industry leaders and conducting media relations will certainly keep communicators busy after a layoff announcement. Developing clear, appropriate messages for these audiences quickly becomes essential.
“The two things that every stakeholder wants to know are whether there are more layoffs coming up and what the company will do to retain key talent/proceed past this stage,” says Colella-Graham.
And when you identify stakeholders, make sure they acknowledge their intersectionality and what this message means to them at different levels. Personalization can help.
“An employee could be your customer, a customer could be your client,” continues Colella-Graham. “Less is more when communicating externally at a mass level, but personalizing through individual calls and leading with empathy counts.”
Green says that keeping the firing a secret and not going into details will not help any of those involved at this time. Creating a thoughtful plan to communicate not only to senior executives but also to the next levels of management what is to come can go a long way in cementing reputation within the organization and beyond.
“Some organizations rely too much on secrecy—they keep planned reductions with just a small group of senior executives up to the eleventh hour,” she says. “Your key next-generation leaders are likely to be those closest to the individuals and teams affected by these decisions. And they will certainly be the ones who will be asked about it after a layoff. Invite them in earlier and give them time to process what’s going to happen and ask tough questions.”
These tough questions can prepare even the most vigilant PR team for a public scrutiny.
No CEO wants to be seen as a villain during a period of layoffs. But think of the guy Fired 900 employees via Zoom back in 2021? Nobody has forgotten that. Colella-Graham says leaders must be willing to assume their role in layoffs, which can often be a missed opportunity, and helps with transparency.
“Maybe they were too confident in the market, didn’t make course corrections early enough, or this was planned for a long time as part of an organizational change in a certain industry,” she says. Either way, leaders should own it. They should be able to share the what, why and what next.”
Green points out the importance of leaders leaving their egos at the door since a layoff affects so many. Communicators should work with leaders to refine their messages, which can include humanity but can also focus on the needs of those suffering from the decision. Crying on LinkedIn won’t help. As mentioned earlier, remind leaders that this isn’t about them.
“Don’t overstate the impact on you as a leader,” says Green. “Yes, it is very difficult for most leaders to make the decision to let people go. Rare is the leader who is not conflicted about this decision or emotionally affected on a personal level. Don’t make it personal by sharing this news.”
Nicole Schuman is Senior Editor at PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalo