Posted on December 7, 2020

As the whole world is grappling with the challenges and struggles emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders have the heinous task of navigating their companies and employees through this unchartered territory. However, managers are not only dealing with the underlying anxiety about their own positions, but many of them are also dealing with the stress and sadness of having to let go of some of their workers.

Sometimes, laying off employees is the only way to stop the bleeding especially when the company is losing a lot of money. But the question is how do you handle your feelings of sadness and guilt? How do you deliver this message virtually? And how can you manage the anxieties of the employees who remain?

• Are Layoffs Needed?
Losing your job during a pandemic is probably the worst thing that could happen to anyone and it affects both parties. If you are the one making the decision about layoffs, ask yourself if downsizing is necessary at this time or if there are alternative actions that could yield the same results? Can cuts and sacrifices be made elsewhere? Putting a hold on promotions perhaps? As a business leader, it is your job to find resourceful, creative ways on how your company can save as many jobs as possible and if you believe downsizing or rightsizing at that point is the only way, then you may proceed. Laying off staff should however be the absolute last resort for obvious reasons.

• Be Transparent
The most important thing during layoffs is communication. Transparent communication between the HR Manager and the laid-off staff about the reasons behind it can help smoothen the process. Lack of transparent communication while laying off employees would only result in malicious gossip and rumors which could affect the company’s reputation and cause more damage for those who do remain. Whether it is to cut losses, or to stay afloat, your employees deserve to know the truth and they deserve to know that you had explored all alternatives prior.

• Show Empathy and Support
There is a lot of uncertainty and it is hard enough that some people must lose jobs. The least that HR mangers and employers you can do however, is show some empathy. The onus is on the HR manager to handle the laying off process with sensitivity and consideration. When delivering the news, talk gently with respect while highlighting the reasons for the lay-off. However, it is important to avoid making promises as you might not know when business would begin to settle and become profitable, which could signal a recruitment drive. It is also important to mention that the reason for the layoff is not influenced by their job performance or competence where that it is the case.

• Help During Job Search
The best way to show your support is with a letter of recommendation which can help such an employee in a job search. You can also connect such employees to other HR managers who may have information on job opportunities or even ask the remaining employees to provide job referrals.

• Reassure the Remaining Employees
Laying off staff usually has a tremendous demotivating effect on the remaining employees. In some cases, it might just be an employee that has been laid off but a friend. This decreases morale, increases stress, affects productivity, and performance and increases overall anxiety. Thus, it is important to address this as soon as possible. Address the remaining employees and reassure that their jobs are not at stake and encourage them to make the laying off process smoother for their colleagues. This would help the company survive during uncertain times.

As a business leader, it is upon you to handle the laying off process to be as stress-free as possible. It is not so easy telling employees they would be losing their jobs during a pandemic. It is a very unusual circumstance, but it is what it is. The key is to show empathy and support but do not overpromise or commit to re-hire when you are unsure.

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