Explainers

In Conversation: How to Layoff Employees Gracefully in a Remote World—and Why It Matters

NOBL and CareerArc discuss how leaders can better prepare to lead a team through one of the most difficult cultural events

Given the unprecedented level of layoffs and furloughs in the past few weeks, Lucy Chung, NOBL Co-Founder and CEO; Jane Garza, NOBL LA Managing Director; and Yair Riemer, CareerArc’s President of Career Transition Services discussed how to make layoffs more humane. Key takeaways from the conversation included:

  • Layoffs have a long-term impact your culture and your brand long-term. Aside from being the right thing to do, laying off employees in a humane way is important for your brand’s reputation and culture: people will judge your actions now when thinking about talent referrals in the future.
  • Provide context. As much as possible, be transparent about the company’s situation and how decisions about layoffs were made. A good measure of how much is “safe to share” is to think about the future—six months from how, will your company feel comfortable sharing the same level of information?
  • Especially when conducting layoffs remotely, make it personal. Dedicating time to a 1:1 conversation, so that individuals can process the information, shows respect. And since so many people are working from home, it’s kind to ask them to find a space for a serious conversation.
  • Help laid-off employees transition. Outplacement services like resume reviews and counseling can make the experience less painful—especially for younger employees, who may never have experienced a workforce reduction. And it doesn’t have to cost money: leaving a LinkedIn recommendation or reaching out to recruiters at other companies demonstrates your commitment.
  • Have a plan for what’s next. Check in regularly with the people who remain—what’s your new “North Star”? You don’t need to have all the answers, but again, try to be as transparent as possible about future plans.
  • Be attentive to self-regulation. As a leader, you’ve probably been thinking about layoffs for weeks or even months, while it may come as a surprise to your employees. Practice holding space for your employees’ emotions, and being vulnerable but not emotionally needy. Taking time to do a leadership retro can keep you in the right mindset.

Read the Transcript

Paula Cizek:

All right. So like I said, let’s go ahead and get started. If we could advance the slides initially and do a quick introduction to who we are and why you should listen to us. Like I said, we’ve got three panelists today: Lucy, Jane, and Yair. We’re really excited to have everybody. Next slide. So we’re Nobl and we are an organizational design company. What that means is that we transform company cultures aligning how they work with changing market conditions. As you can imagine with COVID, it feels like market conditions are changing on a daily basis. We’re working with teams to make them respond more rapidly, more effectively to all of the uncertainty in the market, and supporting leaders as they lead their teams through this very uncertain time.

We were founded in 2015 and we’ve worked with everyone from rapidly scaling startups to fortune 500 companies. These are some of the results that we’ve seen: everything from increasing productivity 27% to avoiding painful, unnecessary reorganizations, increasing work-life balance, candor. So, we see there’s a lot of different ways that we can make an impact within organizations. And then on the next slide you can see exactly how we achieve those results: embedded coaching, offsite design, and training. And yes, in case you’re wondering, we do offer all of them remotely. In fact, we just helped one client design a training program for managers about operating in the new normal and how they can help their teams remote work better. So with that said, that’s the information portion. Let’s go ahead and kick off today’s topic. So I want to turn it over to the panelists and just start by asking about the topic, right. We described this as humane layoffs—so what exactly do we mean by humane layoffs?

Jane Garza:

Yeah. I can kick things off. So one, I just want to say I’m really excited about the number of people that we have here today and I’m not excited about this topic in general because it’s obviously a disappointing thing to talk about and it’s always hard to go through, but I do think there are better ways to go through this. I think that there’s like a scale of how bad a layoff can feel and we’ve heard a lot of horror stories lately, which is what caused NOBL to start kind of jotting down our thoughts around why are those horror stories happening and what is a better way to do this, especially when you’re all remote and you can’t be as personal as you would like to be in some of these conversations. So that was our thinking in the initial like humane layoffs is, “how do we think about the extremes of some companies have laid off their employees via like automated Zoom,” we’ve heard. And then there’s like the really personal lives, like one on one conversations that are happening and what’s the in between? How do you get a little bit closer to that? The more human side of things.

Lucy Chung:

The other thing that that came up for us is that we’re already in such a kind of contracted or traumatized state because of what’s going on around us and layoffs do that on top of it. So we’re putting a hat on a hat, we’re putting more trauma on top of trauma, so I think it’s really hard to see clearly. And so our intent here is to just really be really super practical and quite specific about the anecdotes we have, the case studies we have, but also the tips that we have for ensuring that you can see a little bit clearer through what is really your, this is if you’re navigating this right now, it is so incredibly immense, difficult and chaotic. And then the other thing in a year, we didn’t talk about this in our intro call, but Jane and I have both been in house as well. And I feel like that experience beyond obviously our consulting lens on this and walking clients through it, I think because this is such a personalized, emotional experience, I think that our, our in-house time really lends itself to adding some, dynamic perspective on this.

Yair Riemer:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think both of those introductions really get at the core of the first question that Paula poses around humane layoffs, right? Even in a pre-COVID time. We want to approach these situations with that compassion, empathy. And as you mentioned, it’s the hat on the hat, but even if we can’t guarantee somebody’s job today or tomorrow, we can at least guarantee that respect, empathy. So that’s sort of the driving factor, I think for all of us is as leaders or HR leaders as we navigate these waters.

Jane Garza:

And I think the reason that like we were feeling it, just to add a little bit, I think the reason that we are feeling it a lot at NOBL too, is we work in the field of culture, company culture, and we’re trying to help companies create healthy cultures. And layoffs are one of those things that like a horror story, stick around. Like, if you’ve ever been in-house, you’ll know if a company’s had layoffs before because they’ll have a term or something for it internally. Like “Oh, D’day” or “Remember that crazy day all those people were let go.” It’s a thing that people remember. People stick around and really last in the core of the culture, and the more you can do to keep that scar tissue from being deep, the better you’ll be like moving onwards past this time.

Paula Cizek:

And I want to point out—Jane, you said when you were first addressing this, that we’re hearing lots of terrible version of this, right? Like you’re hearing rumors of people getting fired in just mass anonymous Zoom meetings, or hearing of people just getting an email saying that they’re being let go. And on the one hand, some of these are rumors we’re not getting the full picture. But we also want to make the point that if you do just slightly better than that, that’s not necessarily good. Right? We actually want to make this as much as possible a positive experience and not just like, not terrible. Anything to add to that?

Jane Garza:

I think if we spend too much time just ragging on the companies that are doing this poorly, we could all walk away and say like, “Oh well, at least we’re not doing that.” Like at least we’re not one of those companies. But I do think that there’s a personalization to this. Like what, what works best for your company and your people. And there’s just like a thoughtfulness aspect. So sure. One scale above would be not to do a pre-recorded message, but then what’s the version above that? We’ll talk a little bit more about what outplacement looks like: how do you still give care to your people even when you don’t feel like you have the funds to necessarily help people find their next role. There are more creative ways to be supportive through this process.

Paula Cizek:

So why should we even bother making layoffs humane? They’re a part of business. Nobody likes them, right? Whether you’re in a time of COVID or not. So why should we make that effort as leaders, as companies? Why can’t people just deal with it? It sucks, but that’s business. We’ll start with Lucy on this one.

Lucy Chung:

Yeah, think this comes down to… I mean, this is pretty, it’s personal for me because I think the toxicity of late-stage capitalism is so apparent right now. It really comes down to the fact that livelihood is linked to your employment. And so when you kind of threaten or risk someone’s livelihood, which is what a layoff ultimately does for potentially a big swath of individuals, in my mind as a leader, you have a responsibility to inject empathy and humanity into it. Now I know that that’s not, you know, shared across the board. That’s, that’s NOBL’s, viewpoint on it. I think that’s definitely CareerArc’s. I mean the entire business is built around making sure that these things happen with compassion, they built structures around that. So that’s for the people that are leaving: you’re fundamentally changing, their lives and putting them at risk in a way that means that you have a responsibility to do right by them, as right as you can.

And on the other side of it, the reason to do it humanely is because the people left watch how you treat the people that you exit, and pick up on that from a cultural perspective. So when Jane says that it leaves that indelible mark and that there’s scar tissue around it, that’s because that day and how the company or the leaders treated people who are being exited matters. Right? It’s really important. It’s a tradition really, even though it’s not going to happen, hopefully, more than once. It is a tradition in that organization. So I think that that piece of it is so important. And I would say even more so now. I was thinking this morning, I have a friend who just did a bunch of these and she was telling me that the water cooler conversations about the layoffs are way, way increased because of the fact that people are able to have them without being seen having them.

So normally you’d have an office setting where you’d probably find it hard to steal time with your colleagues and talk at length about what just happened, or to have long Slack conversations. But she was saying that the amount of conversation that she’s having to get to field and questions coming up that she’s having to field is far, far, far more than she’s ever experienced. And I wonder if that’s because you’re able to get on the phone for an hour and a half and no one is a witness to that except you and the person you’re calling. So I feel like even more so with this remote setup, the humanity and the compassion piece is just critical.

Paula Cizek:

And we’re seeing lots of people who have been laid off lots of businesses—they’re actually starting to crowd sources, right? We’re starting to see people create lists of which companies are laying people off, which people are hiring so that everybody is up to date on what’s going on. Yair, anything to add to that about why we should make layoffs more humane?

Yair Riemer:

I think Lucy hit the main points. I would add the additional sort of brand reputation point of view, Lucy mentioned the employees left behind a water cooler talk. I think it also affects individuals that you want to recruit in the future. Right? The world is gonna come back in a different way and normal will be different for months or quarters or years, but we’ll still be recruiting people. And the way you treat people today impacts how you recruit them in the future. The world is small. If I want to get a job with Lucy, I might know Jane and she might introduce me. If I don’t treat Jane the right way, she’s not going to introduce me to Lucy. Right? So I think, referrals, recruitment, sort of these boomerang alumni employees, they come back around in the future. You might want that individual that you unfortunately had to let go today, because your business was impacted due to COVID, which no one could plan for it. You might want that individual to recommend a friend or you might want them back on the line. So there are definitely some factors from the business perspective. And then of course with review sites like Glassdoor, et cetera, et cetera. Just the general brand and reputation elements, it’s pretty critical as well.

Jane Garza:

That boomerang aspect feels important because layoffs in last year, letting go of people because of a financial reason, like you just don’t have the funds to keep them on staff. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not able to do their job well, or that they don’t know their job well or your company. And if you list out those things on any candidate you’re like, that is the perfect person for me. They understand my company and they’ve done this before. Ideally you would want to bring them back once your company is in a stronger place. Having them walk away in a way that makes them feel cared for is the best way to make sure that you can eventually bring those people back and get that strong talent back on board.

Paula Cizek:

Yair, you mentioned letting people go the right way, right? It’s sort of funny to talk about the “right” way and the wrong way, again, of layoffs because it’s already a difficult topic. If you look at any best practices around layoffs, we’ll usually recommend announcing them in person and having one on one meetings. But of course, due to COVID, we have many people working from home, right? You actually can’t bring people together to have that conversation. So if you can’t do this in person, what are some of the best practices about doing this remotely? And maybe Jane, you come from an HR background, so maybe you can kick us off with this.

Jane Garza:

Yeah. Well I think number one thing is make it as personal as possible. You won’t be able to do this in person. If you can have one on one conversations with people, or if you can have your HR team to divide and conquer, and have this one on one, or your people leaders have those one on ones. I think that is probably best case scenario is giving people the space to have a two sided (not in person) personal conversation where they’re not just hearing a message but they can actually respond and actually have a conversation about this thing and process that a little bit. Also, I would just keep in mind that we’re all in our homes and you’re basically firing someone in their homes, in a space where they’re going to be day to day.

So if you can preempt that a little bit and just say we’re about to have a serious conversation, go somewhere where you feel comfortable that you can like kind of shut the door and do this with me, and prep them a little bit for it so that they’re not having it in the middle of their living room while they’re rambling their kids or something like that. I think that feels really important too. Then the third piece is they probably have personal items at the office, right? Because we all kind of left in a rush and we didn’t totally know how long this would last. And I doubt people took home boxes of stuff when they were all going remote to work because of COVID. So I would think about how do you, after all this is over and we do go back to office life, how are you going to get those people their things in a really respectful way? Like, are you going to ship it to them? Basically just have some sort of plan for what happens next so that you don’t have some desks filled with personal items that you know, never get accounted for.

Lucy Chung:

I think the other thing to add there, because Jane, you make such a good point about the one-on-one and also the prepping of, “Hey, we’re about to have serious conversation; you may want to go another other room” or prepare for that. I think the other thing, the argument that I often hear against that both in person remotely is, Oh, but if we do it one on one, we’re laying off so many people that some of them are going to start talking before we’re able to get to them to have those one-on-ones. That’s fine. The talk is going to happen no matter what, and better that you had the one-on-one. It’s sort of like the even over here is a more personalized one-on-one even over them knowing that when you call them, that’s what you’re calling about. The reality is that it’s likely that people are already talking before this comes up.

If they aren’t, wow. Amazing job on keeping it really quiet. Then again, the lack of transparency around how your business was doing might actually present a challenge earlier that you could have tackled. So I think that that piece of it, I know that it always comes up as, “Oh, well they’re going to know that this is what that one on one is about.” They’re not going to not get on that call because they know that that’s what it’s about. It’s actually so important that you do the one-on-ones that even if they’re stacked and you don’t, you know, one of them happens at noon and the first one happened at nine and so there has been time that that’s okay.

Jane Garza:

Yeah. You’re sending a huge message by saying that you’re going to take the time to do this one on one, even if they’ve already heard what’s about to happen. The fact that it’s on the calendar, that you’re dedicating your time to do it, sends a huge message of respect. And what you can also do is while you’re having those conversations—we’re all adults, you can say, “I’m about to have 10 more of these. I think it would be much better if I deliver the news versus you.” Look, you don’t have to lie if someone outright asks you if we’re going to have a layoff. Of course not, but “give us a moment to spread this news before you start sharing it with your colleagues on the inside conversations because we’d love to have those one on ones and share it from our perspective.” As much as possible

Lucy Chung:

And then expect some of them not to respect that. Which again, I totally agree with Jane. Yes, please make that request because it actually again sends a message, but also a good percentage of people won’t be able to respect that cause it feels so personal.

Paula Cizek:

We talk a lot about leaks, and a lot of companies go through a lot of effort to prevent leaks from happening, but it is something that you really can’t control. Right? Once it’s out of the bag, people are gonna wanna talk about it. People are going to want to reflect on their experience. So there’s a difference between, of course, internal versus external. You can try and plan a little bit for that. But what we encourage typically is for companies to do a little bit of scenario planning and assume, okay, the information is going to leak. How are we going to respond to that, and what can we do about it so that it doesn’t reflect on our organization negatively.

So one of the things that I really wanted to discuss was, there’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re going through these layoffs. It’s a really tense, it’s a really stressful time, right? For leaders as well as the people who are being let go. What’s the easiest thing for leaders to forget when they’re doing layoffs? What is easy to get lost in all of the commotion, all of the stress, that is really critical for leaders to keep front of mind?

Yair Riemer:

I think there are a couple of things that, that Jane and Lucy already touched on, but really you can’t hammer this point home enough around over-communication and over-support. And I think both Jane and Lucy spoke about the employee morale of those left behind. Getting everybody together—transparency and honesty are your guard rails in this moment as a leader, whether you’re an HR leader or the CEO, and just speaking maybe a little bit more transparently about your finances than you ever had before. Maybe you are a company that keeps those close to the vest, but now is the time to say, Hey, listen, we missed by X percent or Y percent or COVID met A, B and C and so this is why we’re in this situation. That trust is something that you can rebuild.

So I think while there’s so much stress and typically our clients in an outplacement situation have so much going on because a reduction in force or a layoff is so time-sensitive, and everything has to happen in a certain amount of hours, days or weeks. And oftentimes when that’s completed, it’s like, wow, we completed this and we had those conversations. But now as Lucy and Jean both mentioned, there are these hundreds of survivors, there were these water cooler conversations. So, everything kind of revolves around what steps forward I can take. And then also specifically to this 2020 situation, this is the first time many of these individuals have been let go, right? The economy has been pretty good for the last decade—generally, at least from a job growth perspective, taking out, you know, your own opinions on what “good” means. But from a job growth and unemployment perspective, it’s been low. And so people in their first jobs or second jobs, this is the first time they’ve gone through a situation like this. So I think that extra level of nuance for HR leadership around over communication and explaining what this even means—how can I navigate this? How can we go above and beyond? Those are the types of situations that need to be top of mind.

Lucy Chung:

That’s all plus one for me. And I would say the biggest thing that I’ve seen leaders and myself forget when they’re letting someone go is to breathe. It sounds so simple, but I think because as leaders—if you’re a leader in this position, you’ve been preparing for this—nonstop meetings, emails, et cetera, for potentially the last two weeks, maybe it’s even been months. Maybe you’re an organization that, like the fashion industry, was feeling the COVID pain in January. So it’s possible you’ve been planning this for months. And then when that day comes, it’s seen as this momentous kind of game-change day. And so you’re wanting to just get through it and you’ve been thinking about getting to end of that day, likely for that whole time. You’ve been planning, “let me just get to the end of that day when I have to have these conversations.”

And so the instinct is just sort of, tumble through and plow through the conversations. And I cannot emphasize enough how much taking a breath, taking in what the, how the person is responding. The shock is a spectrum. I have actually in all of my conversations that have let people go, I’ve only ever had one person who was just completely unsurprised and unshocked and it was a performance space termination. So the hope would be that she or he had gotten enough feedback that it wasn’t a shock, but everyone else is going to be on some, some shade of surprised. And in order to take that in as a leader, you need to take a breath and just pause and it’s okay that it’s going to feel a little awkward. It’s so important to hold that space for the both of you in that conversation. So breathe is what I think leaders forget to do.

Jane Garza:

I think that’s an important one. And I think to your point about that shock, I think what’s also important is that it often feels like the finish line is a conversation that you’re going to have, because that’s the most emotionally grueling part of this. Or the one that everyone probably wants to avoid, wants to get it over with etc. The finish line is, it’s not even really a finish line. It’s like somewhat of a finish line. But phase one is three weeks after all the announcements are made. There’s much more to do after that first day of conversation. There’s, you know, checking on the people that are still there, to your point, and having a plan for, what now? What is your North Star now?

That’s the question everyone’s going to have for you. And if you are really gravitating towards that finish line of, just, “who are we letting go and what’s the plan for the day,” you’re not gonna have the energy for thinking about what’s next. So really planning that out before you even dive into the conversation. It’s okay to not to have all the answers, but at least start to think about, what are we going to share with our people about what’s next for the organization, because everyone’s going to wonder, is this round one of layoffs or are we okay from here on out? Do I need to worry about my job? Should I be looking for something? So just thinking about all of those, “what’s next” questions

Lucy Chung:

I completely agree. We were talking on our prep call that it seems like it’s some sort of psychological effect, where we think tons about the wedding, and not the marriage; and we think tons about the birth, and not parenthood. And I feel like when we talked about this, it really resonated with the three of us. The same thing occurs here. There’s all this emphasis on D-day, or the day that we’re letting people go, and then there’s really not a whole lot of thought put in what’s next. And I think actually they’re equally, if not more important, about what’s next for your organization. So making sure that to Jane’s point that that emphasis there is key.

Paula Cizek:

I think it’s really interesting to focus on this idea of, you know, it’s not just a finish line or it’s not just a one-time event and then you’re done, but there is an ongoing process. There’s steps after that. So let’s look at this from the two sides. First of all, helping you support the employees who are leaving, right? You have that one-on-one conversation. You say, I’m sorry, but we’re doing around of layoffs. So how do you support them after that? How do you make their experience the least painful possible?

Yair Riemer:

There are a number of ways, right? Obviously, you know, provide the best severance and best benefits that you possibly can or can afford to. Because that’s going to be part of some of the ease of the transition. A company like CareerArc of course helps organizations with career transitions. So outplacement, help the employees land a new job. You know, everyone could use—whether you’re the CEO, whether you’re a first time, college/entry-level employee like a barista or a cashier—regardless of where you are and what stage in your career you’re in, everyone can get that extra confidence from career coaching, that extra confidence from having a resume looked over, edited, or reviewed. So any ability to provide that job assistance or even point people in the right direction I think is useful.

We’ve seen some examples from our client base and we spoke about this in our prep call, of organizations going above and beyond, significantly above and beyond what they had to do. And sometimes these benefits don’t even require cash at all. So one organization we worked with, a large aerospace company technology company actually sent us the names and the contact information for recruiters in their industry at peer companies. So they did a layoff and all these engineers were affected. And so they sent us information for, here is Jane, she’s the recruiter at Google. Here’s Lucy, she’s the recruiter at NASA. Here’s Yair, he’s the recruiter at Jacob’s engineering, and they are looking to hire these exact type of engineers. But it wasn’t something that you could find on LinkedIn, you could find on Google. It was hyper-targeted, specific to these individuals in this, sophisticated engineering job.

And so that just required time, that required compassion, that required caring, it didn’t require any money. And now our career coaches on CareerArc’s side, we want to take all that information and anytime they spoke to an individual that was affected, that lost their job from that company, they could say, we have something extra for you. We have someone to connect you with, someone for you to reach out to. So I think being creative and realizing these people are people that put in a great deal of work and, and built up your organization goes a long way on the backend.

Lucy Chung:

By the way, we recognize that a lot of this is America-centric. So apologies if you’re calling in from another region where some of this is not applicable, but America is obviously hurting so badly from this and we all are based here. So we do, NOBL and I think CareerArc too has, we can provide advice for outside of that. So do if you need something that’s tailored or we’re obviously happy to have followups but yes, it’s domestic.

Yair Riemer:

I think that’s a good point. Globally there are things like work councils and support from the government as well. So if there are questions or people outside of the US, feel free to reach out to us offline and we can have those resources as well.

Paula Cizek:

And I do want to point out, we’ve already getting some really great questions in.Please keep sending them in. I want a lot, a good chunk of time at the end to address those questions. So if as we’re discussing, something comes up, go ahead and pop it in and we will address it during the Q and A session. So getting back to our conversation, Lucy, Jane, just wanted to make sure, were there any other things about supporting employees who are leaving?

Lucy Chung:

I really like—and this may not be for everyone, it really depends on the type of job—but I like it when you offer doing a LinkedIn recommendation, like a little public referral. Partly it’s just for employee employment, you know, go forward. But also, honestly, partly it’s for the person leaving to just have this wonderful qualitative feedback for them that they can then feel even better about the fact that this really was company financially based and work sort of publicly proclaiming that had nothing to do with this individual’s, talent, craft, performance. So I’m a huge fan of that. I think companies I’ve worked at, we’ve done that for people who have voluntarily left. And then also for when we’ve had to do financial based layoffs. And I think it’s a really nice little little add on and it takes nothing. Right? It’s a 20-minute task from the person’s manager and colleagues.

Jane Garza:

I feel like that’s so important and I think it’s not about saying like, okay, HR team, figure out how we’re going to make testimonials for everyone on LinkedIn. It’s about spreading that intentionality to your leadership team and saying, yes, we had to do layoffs, but we really care about our people. So I want all of us to do our best to go through our networks, send in testimonials on LinkedIn and basically spreading that intention so that they are doing the same thing, and it’s coming from a place of leadership across the company. It’s not like something that you’re outsourcing to a group of people. I think to Yair’s point, and Lucy’s point, this is something that you can do that doesn’t cost anything, but has such extreme benefits in terms of how people feel when they’re leaving.

Paula Cizek:

What about the people who stay, right? So you have the conversation, the people who you had to let go are now exiting the company. How do you convince people to stick around? How do you keep them motivated when there’s so much uncertainty? Lucy, why don’t you kick us off?

Lucy Chung:

Yeah, the first thing, is how do you communicate that you’ve just had to make decision? And I really think this is company specific. Of course there are some guiding rules on it, but already, I saw a question about, how transparent do you be? And I would push that back and say, how transparent has your company been? I don’t think this is necessarily, to Yair’s point: Yes. This might be the time to be a little bit more transparent, but it’s not the time to rip the bandaid off on all forms of transparency, right? If you’ve never shared how profitable the company is, it’s not the time to then also share salaries and also share that would actually be really disempowering.

Jane Garza:

Just to add a quick note about transparency too: the good measure of that, it’s something that you feel comfortable being transparent about moving forward. So once you do it, you can’t reel it back and stop doing it three months from now. So just make sure that it’s the right amount of level for what you want to do, you know, next year or the year after.

Lucy Chung:

Yeah. That and I think that the other leaders need to feel like they understand that transparency. So if it’s finances, for example, they need every leader who’s going to be expected to talk about this or field questions needs to have enough acumen to be able to speak intelligently about that. I think what I’ve seen happen at times is, there’s a decision made about transparency that not all the leaders are bought into, and then they end up fielding questions that they actually can’t answer well, and it actually fuels more anxiety. So making sure that, you know, whether it’s an FAQ, or ask me anything—I like that AMA style. Just ensure that if you’re going to do that, that you actually have equipped all of the leaders having those conversations with the right tools to feel good about that. Right? You don’t want this to be something that they show up and they feel totally out of their element, trying to have a conversation that they don’t know how to have. So those are a couple things I’m going to let Jane and Yair, you’re talking about, there’s so many ways that you can take care of the employees that are left.

Jane Garza:

I think to your point, a really easy thing that you can just do is create a Google doc. As soon as you start talking about this, create a Google doc that’s a running list of questions that you’ve been asked that the entire leadership team will share and add to as you go, so that you’re all going from the same place of, you know, that, that single source of truth and answering questions in the same way. Other things, I think it’s a lot of the advice that we give when we are advising leaders going through change in general. So to Lucy’s earlier points, remembering that change is a transition. It’s not a flip of a switch. So now that the layoffs have happened, the people who are staying need time to process too. So in your initial message, take the time to really communicate the problem versus the solution.

What often happens is once you’ve had all this time to, behind closed doors, figure out what you’re gonna do next, leaders will come out and say, “here’s my solve and here’s what’s next for us.” The key thing that people want to hear when they’re listening, more like, “why did you make all those decisions, and how did you make those decisions along the way?” And just taking all of that time, spend 90% of your communication and talking about why: why did you start, why did you make those decisions? Where did you go through next? How did you ultimately end up here so that people can come up and follow along with that journey with you. Because they needed that time to catch up; all of that time that you’ve had to process and absorb this, they haven’t had. So give them a bit of that. That feels hugely important to me.

Lucy Chung:

Jane, you often say, which I think feels so important, and I might get it wrong: People are going to feel angry and sad— that line. I think that’s so, I love that line that you often will say.

Jane Garza:

We talked about this during change too, is that people can feel every emotion, especially during layoffs. They’re going to feel angry. They’re going to feel frustrated, they’re going to feel hurt. The one thing that they shouldn’t feel as confused, those are the people who are leaving and the people who are staying. So whatever you can do, sometimes we say like leaders, most of the time should be communicating until they’re blue in the face. And then there are moments to communicate until you’re like purple in the face. And this is one of those moments it’s just like, over-communicate. If you think you’ve already said it three times, say it again, and just keep going until people are like, yeah, I got it.

Paula Cizek:

Yair, anything that you’ve seen from your experience of working with companies of how to best prepare leaders and how to move the team forward together.

Yair Riemer:

I mean, Lucy and Jane couldn’t say it any better than that. I think, the finish line analogy’s great, as is the marriage and the wedding analogy. I think just first recognizing as HR leaders that there is that next step is the key. And it’s tough: over communication is very important, but there are really experienced leaders, who are in your organization right now who run an engineering team or a client success team or a sales team, who are going to be asked by an employee: “Hey, Jane disappeared from my IM list today. What happened to Jane?” Because they had no idea. Even though Jane’s not a salesperson or engineer or client success person in that division, that she had a great relationship with that, that person out of their department. And even though that’s not their responsibility per se, because Jane wasn’t part of their team or maybe even their business unit or maybe had been in the same location, she just disappeared from the IM list.

And so, that over-communication is why you’re purple in the face. I mean, you have to just be as honest as you can and, and have your leadership, you know, speak to the organization during these times of change as much as possible, on a cadence that’s regular, on a cadence that has that transparency. So expect the unexpected, right. Jane briefly mentioned, “Hey, what are we doing in this world now where we have the picture of my spouse and I at the Grand Canyon or at our wedding day on my desk and how would I get that”, right? What’s going to happen to that? And so everything’s brand new. And I think the more that we communicate about that, the better that that everyone will be.

Lucy Chung:

I think the one point to add there, I’m just thinking about purple in the face, is that that doesn’t mean that doesn’t, that’s not us inviting you as a leader to get embroiled in the intense emotionality, right? So I often talk about this balance of competence and vulnerability is like how do you strike, and this would be the time to really practice that and literally in front of a spouse or in front of the mirror is looking at how you can not be a robot, right? We don’t want you to be perceived as only competent, but we also don’t want you to be perceived as only vulnerable. And so striking the balance balance between the two and yes, communicating to your purple in the face over and over and again, but also striking a really nice tone of compassionate and really confident about the decision that was made. There’s a tendency with leaders to get absorbed into the pitch of the emotionality of the team or to take that on really seriously. And think that the strategy needs to shift. And I think all of that is important to take in. But knowing how to self-regulate is also really important in this time. Which of course is really challenging, given what’s going on outside of your company.

Paula Cizek:

So I want to make sure there’s plenty of time for questions, we’ve got a lot of really good ones coming in. So let’s try and do a little speed round of Q and A and see if we can get through as many as possible. First question is, what are some of the suggestions for easing people’s anxiety? Decisions are being made, right? People again, there might be leaks.People can read the news. There’s uncertainty. So how do you coach people through this time when you don’t necessarily know if they’re going to stay or go?

Jane Garza:

I think it’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” as long as you have a plan for what’s happening next. So I think I would share as much as you feel comfortable: “Here’s what we think is going to happen. Here are the conversations leading up to that. You know, the leadership team is getting together on Monday ,we’re going to start making decisions based on X and we think by Thursday you’ll have some new information on Y.” So just as much share as much as you know, share what you don’t know. Start there and at a certain point, there’s anxiety right now, going back, I think at a certain point there is anxiety right now and people are going to be anxious whether or not you have layoffs on the table, you know, like I think everyone’s thinking about it right now because they’re seeing it happen everywhere. In other companies. And I think you just have to, to our earlier point about, you’re going to see all of the emotions. I think you just have to expect that people are going to feel anxious regardless of what steps you take. The most that you can do is give some helpful information. And then continue to be clear in your communication and go from there.

Paula Cizek:

Great. Another question that we’ve been seeing from a few clients is that due to COVID, they’re thinking that when they come back, whatever that new normal is, they’re going to want to make some changes, right? Maybe bring in more digital experience, bringing a different skill sets for leaders. So if you’re thinking that you’re going to need to make those changes to your workforce a few months from now, does it make more sense to let people go now, or should you furlough them, and then let them go essentially when you quote unquote get back to normal in a few months? Any advice to this person?

Lucy Chung:

I’m biased and I’m biased partly by what I’m hearing of late from friends that have been furloughed and I felt this way pre-COVID. I’m not a fan of furloughing. I know that it allows you to then reemploy them more easily. The hope is that you lay them off in a humane enough way that actually they’re able to, you’re still able to reemploy them if that happens. I guess the reason I feel that way, and I don’t know, times are really interesting now because the unemployment is so high, that maybe that is what’s best. So I’m sort of balanced on it, but, um, but I feel like it leaves people in this liminal state where they don’t really know if they should come or go and they don’t know if they should be looking for a new job or really trying to invest in their existing company.

And to me that actually doesn’t feel humane. I feel like the better thing to do is to sort of be really clear. Like, Hey, we may come back to you. We’re thinking about these profiles of talent. We think you have that there’s a really strong possibility that we’ll be messaging you. Let’s stay in touch and talk every other week about, even if it’s a 15 minute chat of what’s going on in our business and how it’s going and how you’re doing. So that you are investing in that relationship. But I just feel like leaving them in that state of not knowing if they should start looking for another job or not and how they commute. It’s just that feels inhumane to me. I get that. For some it’s best but I, I just, I don’t love it.

Jane Garza:

I would add, we haven’t really talked enough about how layoffs are like a team sport. This is not one person’s decisions to make decision to make. It should be a mixture of you, your HR team, your legal team, maybe some help from comms or marketing if you have someone who does internal comms. And at this point is when I would definitely tap into HR and legal, and really weigh out the pros and cons of which one is better, furlough or layoff, because in certain areas if you’re furloughing, they get to keep their benefits, throughout this transition time. The part in that question that’s interesting is that it sounds like they’ve made a decision in terms of the types of skill set that they want moving forward. So it’s less likely that they’re bringing back those people to full time work.

Once all of this is over, it’s more likely that they’re probably going to let them go and find people who are more skilled in the digital space. So to me it almost sounds like you’ve made your decision in terms of whether or not they’re continuing or not. And if that’s the case, again, I would still weigh the pros and cons of furlough or layoff, and if you decide furlough because it allows them to keep their benefits. Can you be honest about what the next phase of the company is so that they can stay furloughed you know, doesn’t cost you, they still keep their benefits, but they also know that they should be looking another.. Plus again, this is like all of the legal pieces of this, I would tap your HR folks to make sure that they’re giving you the right information on the best thing to do here.

Paula Cizek:

Great. Yair, this one is for you, is there a benefit of providing outplacement for an laid off employee versus providing the cost of that service as additional severance pay to the employee? What’s your take?

Yair Riemer:

I think that’s a great question. I mean, the check runs out at some point, right? That one to four week chunk of change runs out. And while that’s useful, I think, I think anyone who’s gone through a career transition, career coaching outplacement program will tell you those are the types of skills that could last, weeks, months, years, right. I think it’s invaluable to gain that confidence. How do you put a price tag on someone being able to help you with your pitch statement when you’re on a zoom call like this on a video interview in a couple months going for that new job? Right. Was that work worth one week of pay? I don’t know. So I think it, since we’re in such an anxious moment, just kind of as a, you know, population, the ability to have someone going hand in hand in hand with you along the way with your career development, with your career journey is more valuable now than ever before. You know, even more valuable in times of high unemployment than in times of low unemployment where you have the confidence, you know, someone who went to the same high school or same university and they’ll be able to introduce me. But now with so many more people out of work, I think it actually makes an outplacement benefit even more critical than ever before.

Paula Cizek:

Well, great. Going back to this question of transparency and I think this is actually, Yair, I’ll definitely want you to chime in on the second part of this—how much transparency do you provide to the team that remains right? The routine that remains regarding one, the selection process and then two the packages that you’re providing to the laid off. So, you know, more transparency can help with alleviating anxiety. And showing the care that went into the process, but is that compromising people’s privacy? So I definitely want, Yair, you to chime in regarding the packages. How much should you share? And Lucy and Jane open question about transparency. Yair, why don’t we have you kickoff with the packages.

Yair Riemer:

Yeah, I’ll just jump in. I don’t think you need to share specific details. I think to Lucy and Jane’s point earlier, if you’re not comfortable sharing that historically when running a business, you shouldn’t change your mode of communication now. I do think it’s important to provide information about what you’re doing that goes above and beyond, right? For example, if you’re helping someone navigate government assistance or medical benefits, which might be new to them, I think that’s great to share. Listen, we’re going above and beyond. There’s actually these new rules, these new laws around keeping your health insurance or government repayment programs. There are 25 new bills in the last two weeks around COVID assistance, right? And we’ve had our legal team research those and we’re helping everyone. We’re pointing them to the right resource, employee assistance programs, etc. So I think if you’re doing your jobs well, which is why I think, you know, those companies that have invested in strategic HR leaders and Chief People Officers and really experienced HR practitioners are benefiting in times of crisis like this more so than maybe organizations that are lighter there. Then I think that’s probably sufficient from a communication perspective without needing to worry or straddle the line of weeks of pay and exact amounts and things of that nature.

Jane Garza:

Right? Yeah. I think it’s the talking about like the full picture of how you’re helping people versus the numbers site. I don’t think that matters as much to people who aren’t directly affected by those numbers. And to the questions point, there is a bit of privacy there that you probably don’t want to over step. But just talking about that full picture: we’re doing our best to support people as they exit. We’re thinking about how we can help them find their next role through testimonials. If you have people in your network that you would like to connect them to, please do. Just kind of keeping that conversation going in a broader sense.

Lucy Chung:

And was there another part of that question that was about selection? Like how you selected the people to be laid off. Is that right Paula?

Paula Cizek:

Yeah. Is it okay to share essentially your selection process? Like how you decided who would stay and who would go with the people who are remaining.

Lucy Chung:

So I mean to an extent you can’t not share at least a bit of that because that is exactly what people are going to talk about, especially if they’re fearful for another round, which of course we’ve recommended: please try to do one round cut deep enough that you don’t have to anticipate another round. Of course there’s times when you just can’t anticipate it both because times are so uncertain or also because you just didn’t have enough of a handle on your finances to know which is, you know, again, this is calling into question a lot of things that are new in the ways of how extreme they are. But, there is an element that you’re going to have to share how it was reached. Otherwise you’re going to cause pretty bad anxiety and hysteria. I would say you know, your organization best in terms of what that communication should look like with that be impeccable, right? With it. So don’t say anything that isn’t actually true. That all the leaders can agree to. That they can all say it with authenticity. I find that also painting the real picture of how it was reached is, is in some ways you can. So let’s say you can’t, you really are not comfortable getting into the specifics of who was let go and why what I think is really helpful is you say, “the leaders got together a week ago and we all had a zoom call and it went.” Literally walk them through the actual so they can really picture it and see you all as humans. I find that really, really, important to kind of illustrate and paint the picture and the story for the company. Obviously you need to also discuss the actual strategy but I I do think that that’s company to company.

Jane Garza:

Yeah. The way I would take this too is to think about the future, right? Because ideally you’re making decisions that are going to best strengthen your company for what’s next. And painting that picture is helpful for people. Like, not only was this our selection process, but it’s because we think we need these 10 skills to get us through the next six months and we’re losing some really good people as a result of course. But, we kind of had to make those hard decisions based on what we think will keep the company strong over the next year, six months, what have you. Yeah, that feels important.

Paula Cizek:

So another question, is it appropriate to celebrate the people who have separated? Right. So what are ideas or effective ways that you’ve seen? You obviously can’t do a happy hour in person. So are there, are there ways, is it appropriate to give people a send off?

Lucy Chung:

That’s a tough one. As a group, I was talking to a friend recently who wanted to do a town hall with everyone to do like a bon voyage to the people that were let go and it felt really inappropriate given the nature of everything. I think it really depends. I personally wouldn’t recommend doing some sort of big, “Hey, everyone joined for a happy hour to say goodbye to the people just let go.” I think it puts an expectation on individuals that might be going through something quite persona to then have to show up with their company face on. So I don’t like that version of it, you know, to expect everyone to show up to a group thing. I think the LinkedIn thing is a way to celebrate them, right? Giving them that kind of referral. I think outplacement and providing that service as a way to celebrate their employability and their value. In my mind when I hear celebration, I think of that as a little bit of a loose term. I’d be curious Jane and Yair if you’ve seen other practices that really work?

Jane Garza:

I would agree that, again, people need time to process and when the world is filled with a thousand other anxieties at the moment, that tide is probably going to be longer than the regular time to process a layoff. And you don’t know what anyone’s personal, when they’re feeling ready for it. I think what I would say is you know, we’re not, we’re likely not going to do some sort of happy hour because it’s just hard to figure out right now remotely and it doesn’t feel like it strikes the right tone. But absolutely reach out to people. If you have friends that have left that you know are unfortunate losses, we feel that too. Feel free to reach out and ask them how they’re doing and talk to them. And people like to. Sometimes people have this weird reaction when they’re the ones leftover of like, can I still talk to that person? And just helping clarify that that’s okay and that there’s no bad blood there that it’s okay to check in with people on a one on one level. I think it’s really helpful as well.

Yair Riemer:

Yeah, I think both of those points are great and you can almost even combine them by saying, “Hey, you can equip your leaders to speak to individuals that are still left behind.” Just say, Hey, reach out and we’re calling. To your point, you could even equip them with specifically examples of things they can do. Like maybe you should provide them a LinkedIn recommendation or maybe you should, you know, reach out and ask them if they want any brainstorming about who you know in your network. Right? So it actually shows the organization is taking a premature sort of adult approach to this and we’re not sweeping this under the rug. This isn’t 1985 when it’s a taboo when you’re at a country club. This is social media, this is the world. There’s Google docs passed around with thousands of laid off people. It’s normal. It’s not a stigma. You can talk to these people that did a great job at the company. You can help them out. It just goes to show that you’re an organization that’s thinking about this in a modern kind of transparent way versus one that’s just ignoring it and pretending it never happened. It’s exactly the finish line example earlier and exactly the wedding and marriage example earlier. It just perpetuates this entire sort of moment, I would say.

Jane Garza:

Yeah Yair, I think maturity is the word there. It does send a signal that a company is more mature when you’re able to have this take on it versus it feeling like a breakup or something. Or we’re never going to talk again and there’s some weird, uncomfortable, bad blood when really this is all happening because we’re in a state of uncertainty and there are financial reasons for that decision.

Yair Riemer:

Absolutely.

Paula Cizek:

Great. Okay, so last question because we are almost out of time. I’d like every panelist to come up with one short sentence on this question. What can the leadership team do to take care of their own stress and keep tight. I’m not sure it keep tight a means, but how do they manage their own stress? Right. And get through this. Why don’t we start with Jane?

Jane Garza:

So keep tight makes me think—I do think it’s nice to have a like a group of people that support you through this because you are going to have a bunch of difficult conversations that you’re going to want to debrief. I think preempting that and saying, “Hey team, we’re about to like delve into a week of hard conversations on Friday. Let’s get together and just like debrief and talk it out and even maybe vent a little” whatever it is and have that space for it. You have to schedule it because you don’t have the luxury of just walking down the hall and talking to someone. That feels important. The other thing, sorry, this is way more than a sentence, Paula. The other thing is we also have a leadership retro that we just shared in our last newsletter, but it’s basically just a moment to check in with yourself. A retrospective on how have you been as a leader—are you acting in the ways that you want to be? Where are you not acting in the ways that you want to be? And how can you kind of grow in your next couple of weeks and just be really reflective and self aware of those things? We’ll share that tool to the attendee if that’s helpful.

Paula Cizek:

Great. Lucy, shorter version. Go.

Lucy Chung:

Yeah, I think a perfect segue from Jane’s. I would say if you can share with your leadership team “when I’m stressed, I blank” before all of this happens, it’s likely that you’ve, you may have never been with this constellation of individuals in this stressful of a scenario. I would assume you haven’t given a pandemic and layoffs. I can’t imagine a worse formula for stress. Everyone reacts to stress differently and everyone has a different soothing methodologies. I think saying that to your leadership team so they know, oh, she gets really hungry. She gets snippy. She needs to have a glass of whiskey at the end of the day. She’s going to need to jump off at five to spend restorative time with her family. I think just sharing that openly and saying who you are when you’re stressed is really important.

Paula Cizek:

All right. And Yair, take us home.

Yair Riemer:

Yeah, I mean I agree with Jane and Lucy 100%. I would add maybe one more nuance. I think as a leader you’ve gotten to that position because you’ve probably been extremely competent to use the example that, Lucy, you mentioned earlier. And so you can take on a lot of tasks and strategy. But in times like this, the job of a leader isn’t really to solve every single problem. It’s to really understand it and articulate it really well and to trust and to, and to work with their teammates to solve it. So don’t feel like the burden is all on you, whether that’s at home, whether that’s at work. Realize that you have those individuals around you and your job as a leader is to get the most out of them because they have great abilities as well. And sometimes we see leaders that want to just do everything and solve it all on their own. And it’s just, especially in times of high stress and uncertainty, it’s more unsustainable than in normal times. So I think that’s an important nuance as well.

Published April 18, 2020