Let’s face it, layoffs are not fun. But in all likelihood, there will be layoffs in 2015, and some from major companies which will affect hundreds of individuals. There’s no easy way to handle employee communications during hard times, but there is definitely a wrong way to communicate during a period of downsizing.
Recently, sports agency IMG laid-off 3 percent (100 employees) of the firm’s workforce. As is typical protocol, the announcement was made through an email memo from the CEOs of the agency. However, instead of leading with the news that 100 employees were being let go, the agency “fluffed it up” and buried the lead in the fourth paragraph.
Another example of poorly communicating a layoff was AOL’s announcement that it was laying off 2,000 employees (20 percent of its workforce). The actual announcement was in the 10th paragraph of an internal memo.
And in July when Microsoft announced it would be laying off 12,500 employees over the next year, the layoff wasn’t mentioned until 841 words into Executive Vice President Stephen Elop’s message to employees.
So what gives? Why do companies bury the most important piece of information in a long message that, frankly, many employees might not even finish reading? There are a couple of things happening here, but the major reason is the external reaction that layoffs will have on investors. Communicators, executives, investor relations and legal are so concerned about the image of the company that they sacrifice an opportunity to engage with employees during a critical time period.
For communicators and executives who work on a message announcing layoffs in 2015, keep these seven tips and best practices in mind.
1. Be Transparent – Be honest and upfront with your workforce about the reason for layoffs. Attempting to bury the truth will only create an atmosphere of distrust between employees and leadership.
2. Plan, Plan, Plan – Create a thorough plan prior to the announcement to help answer the mountain of questions and requests that will come your way. Identify key messages and plan for every situation and question. Also, communicating with community leaders and elected officials is important during major job losses in a specific community to help them prepare for the impact.
3. Notify Managers – Notify the manager of the employees being let go and provide them with Q&A and training on how to handle the situation. A manager should not find out at the same time their direct report learns they are being let go.
4. Be Genuine & Open with Laid-off Employees – Inform laid-off employees in person, allowing them an opportunity to vent and ask questions for immediate answers. Also, make sure you are clear on the timeframe for the changes, resources being offered (financial and health packages), career center help, and what opportunities there are to transfer within the business. This also reassures employees staying on that their colleagues and friends are being taken care of.
5. Notify Employees before the Media – The worst thing is for an employee to hear there are layoffs from the media. Control the flow of information and plan accordingly so employees know first.
6. Consistent Messaging – Don’t hurt your credibility by giving different information to different audiences. Be consistent, whether you are talking with employees, the media, investors, the local community or other audiences. Make sure company leaders and managers have talking points and the information they need to answer questions.
7. Support Employees Staying – One of the most critical times for employee engagement is right after a big change. Reinforce your support, appreciation and gratitude for those that are staying, lay out a roadmap for the future of the business and make sure they know they are a part of that future. Keep an open dialogue with employees on how the changes will affect their role and workload and if there is the possibility of office relocation or a re-org of their team. Ongoing communications will help calm concerns and answer on-going questions employees are likely to have.
Each layoff is unique and will bring about own set of problems to overcome. Communicators and leadership who couple these seven tips and its best practices with their own genuine care for employees will suffer fewer scars as a result of changes and have a better opportunity to prosper in the future.