With 38% of companies expecting to layoff employees in 2024, the start of the new year has already seen the announcements of thousands of employee layoffs across all sectors. What’s more is that disgruntled employees have taken to social media to share how they were treated on their way out the door. Some have live streamed their termination meetings, others have shared their tears or anger over the departure and still others have shared anecdotes about being accused of stealing confidential information or workplace office supplies or snacks. While there’s no one right way to conduct a lay-off, here are some considerations to help ease the process and treat departing employees with dignity:

  1. Don’t Rush It – Except when a company’s financial position is so dire that immediate action is necessary, don’t rush the reduction-in-force (RIF) process. Take the time to formulate legitimate business reasons for the selection of employees, conduct an adverse-impact analysis, consider available severance benefits and develop talking points for the communication and a plan for the departure day.
  2. Be Honest, but Succinct -The talking points will help ensure consistency of communication. Don’t sugarcoat, lie or minimize the impact of the separation. What you say in the termination meeting can be used against the company in defending a future litigation, so be sure you are factually accurate when stating decisions were made based on salaries, performance or other criteria. You may also consider a day or two advance generalized communication that layoffs are coming to ease the element of surprise. Advance notice isn’t always practical given security or theft concerns though.
  3. Don’t Be a Stranger – The layoff should be conducted by someone the employee is familiar with. Whether as a witness or the primary communicator, its important that the employee sees a familiar (and hopefully, trusted) face who can deliver the message with compassion and transparency.
  4. Coordination is Key – Assign a key contact to answer follow-up questions and collect severance agreements. Ensure everyone gets a copy of all the necessary documents, including unemployment benefits, 401k information and health care continuation so employees don’t have to chase down what they need. Make it as easy as possible for employees to return equipment or confidential material so as not to add to their stress. Hire security if meetings are held on-site for the safety of all employees, but don’t treat departing employees as criminals.
  5. Rally the Remaining Team – Communicate with the remainder of employees, acknowledging the hardship of the RIF and the plan for moving forward. Nurture their needs during a time of transition and fear as they are critical to the company’s success post-RIF.

In an age of cancel culture, management can use a difficult situation as an opportunity to display leadership, honesty and empathy.