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Laying Off? Communicate Early and Often

the word communication in the dictionary

While the economy appears to be lifting from its fog there are still organizations facing the prospect of layoffs. The process of laying employees off is fraught with peril. There are laws to follow and timelines to respect. There is work to restructure and budgets to balance. In all of the juggling that happens at this time, companies often forget how important it is to communicate a clear and consistent message to those who will be losing their jobs and to those who will survive the cuts. Here are a few tips for managing the messages that employees receive during this time:

  • Respond to community and industry impacts as they happen. If your competitors have announced a layoff, your employees are likely to be wondering if they are next. Be forthright and quick with a message that tells your employees the truth. Even if you don’t know if or when layoffs will take place, you can fend off rumors and build goodwill by addressing those nagging questions before they become outright fears. Remember, what you don’t say will be interpreted by your employees as much as what you do say!

  • Tell employees about changes before the outside world knows. Finding out about layoffs or restructuring in the newspaper or via scuttlebutt is not good for morale, trust, or the future of the organization. Tell employees what the plans are early and well before anyone else catches wind.

  • Deliver the news face to face when at all possible. We’ve heard horrendous stories about companies notifying employees about a layoff via email. Talk about cold!! These are sensitive messages that should be delivered with respect and compassion. Don’t let your fear about the emotions you might receive get in the way of doing the right thing.

  • Conduct weekly CEO webcasts. If your organization is large and face to face meetings with top executives is not logistically possible, use the technology available to you to get the word out. The organizational leader needs to be seen and heard and should be sharing his/her thoughts and plans as often as possible. The longer the leader remains silent and faceless, the greater the resentment employees will have.

  • Publish daily or weekly intranet updates under a heading designated for the change. One organization facing mass layoffs developed an intranet website titled, Straight Talk. This site included the most current information about the budget, layoff policies, plans, and outplacement resources. Even if the employee couldn’t find a manager to speak with, they could count on this site for the most up to date information. Granted, it doesn’t replace the need for face to face conversation, but it is a tool that can help you put out a consistent message.

  • Hold CEO Town Halls. Like the weekly CEO webcasts, it’s important that the top brass be visible. One of the most effective ways for the leader to get his/her message out is to hold meetings with employees on a regular basis. When they are held consistently over time, employees know that they can count on an opportunity to hear the latest developments related to the change and they have an opportunity to be heard themselves.

  • Conduct training for supervisors. While the top executive has an important role to play in communicating a consistent message about the layoff, the first line supervisor is the person who is likely to see and hear the employee’s emotions and reactions the most. Provide skill-based training for supervisors on how to respond to employee reactions, emotions, and behaviors during this difficult time.

  • Periods of layoff and/or restructuring are never easy. How the organization manages the messages about the process will determine how employees and the public respond to the organization in the future.

About the Author: Marnie Green’s goal, via her Management Education Group, Inc. is to build confident leaders who produce extraordinary results. To accomplish this objective, her firm provides valuable step-by-step programs and facilitation services that create more effective leaders and team members. As a veteran human resource developer, she promises that participants will walk away from the programs she presents with practical ideas and skills.

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