How do I navigate a layoff?

Navigating a layoff is a multifaceted challenge that requires thoughtful planning, clear communication, and emotional intelligence. Here's a structured approach based on the insights from executive coach Ed Batista:

For Front Line Managers:

  • Prepare Front Line Managers: Inform front line managers ahead of the layoffs. This can be done through a synchronous virtual meeting a few days or hours before the layoffs begin. The aim is to ensure managers are not hearing the news simultaneously with their teams and are better prepared to respond to employees' questions and concerns. [1]

For Employees Being Laid Off:

  • Consider the Scale: Decide whether to conduct layoffs en masse, in small groups, or individually. This will depend on the number of people involved and their expectations of you as a leader. [2]

  • System Access: Determine when to shut off employees' access to email and other systems. While data security is a concern, allowing employees to say their goodbyes can afford them grace and dignity. [2]

  • Convey Empathy: When delivering the news, express empathy through your tone. Empathy involves understanding how someone else feels and conveying that understanding, which includes acknowledging their pain, surprise, fear, and anger. [2]

For Employees Who Remain:

  • Address Survivors' Guilt: Recognize that remaining employees may experience "survivors' guilt" and a mix of complex emotions. Begin communications by validating these feelings rather than immediately trying to reinvigorate the team. [3]

  • Communicate Appropriately: Do not start with a celebratory or overly optimistic message. Instead, create a moment together with the remaining employees to transition to looking ahead, rather than imposing it upon them. [4]

For Yourself as a Leader:

  • Acknowledge Your Emotions: Recognize that conducting layoffs is painful and that negative emotions play a role in learning from the experience. However, do not seek empathy from those being laid off. [5]

  • Manage Your Energy: Ensure you are well-rested and not distracted by less important tasks. Plan to end the day with supportive people who care about you as a person, not just as a leader. [7]

Communication and Trust:

  • Deliver Bad News Effectively: Use a three-step approach when delivering bad news: explain what happened, why it happened (or what you've learned if the cause isn't clear), and what you're planning to do. This helps minimize rancor and increases the willingness to work toward a solution. [8]

Personal Considerations:

  • Get Support: Consider working with an executive coach or other sources of support, such as peers and an executive assistant, to help navigate the personal challenges of leading through layoffs. [9]

  • Redefine Your Role: Assess whether your current responsibilities align with what creates value and what is fulfilling for you. This can help prevent stress and fatigue. [9]

  • Slow Down: Establish adequate boundaries to manage your time and energy, and differentiate between important and urgent activities to avoid unnecessary urgency. [9]

In summary, navigating a layoff requires careful consideration of the impact on all parties involved, clear and empathetic communication, and attention to your own well-being as a leader. It's about balancing the business needs with the human element and managing the emotional landscape of the organization during a difficult transition.