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8 Effective Tips for Conducting Layoffs

Letting go of an employee doesn't make you a bad person, but it can feel that way. Here are some helpful directives I've found to help conduct the process.

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Letting go of employees never gets easier. The longer your tenure spans, the more you understand the demoralizing ramifications of a layoff. Whether the person about to be let go deserves it or not, they are still human and should be afforded the dignity to leave on amicable terms.

After years of personal missteps in this process, while slowly becoming more in tune with my emotional intelligence, I decided I would craft a set of guidelines to ensure no further blunders were made. Here's how that looks.

Related: Leading With Empathy Is the Best Way to Avoid a PR Crisis

1. Document performance and address the paperwork

As a precursor to letting someone go, you should always look at the person's performance history to determine whether you've taken all of the appropriate steps. I ask myself questions like "has this received written warnings?" or "were there considerable moments of positive change, and if so, what might have triggered the downswing?"

Whenever possible, nothing should come as a surprise to either party. It is essential to note in the termination letter not just the formal reason(s) for the decision and the logistics of dismissal but to refer the ex-employee to a contact who is familiar with the documented performance and termination for additional questions on salary, benefits and insurance. This should be the HR representative who will conduct the exit interview.

2. Do it face-to-face

If you're responsible for someone's involuntary departure, you at least owe that person a face-to-face exchange. Granted, this might be over video chat for those in remote work, but the same sentiment applies. If you are conducting the layoff, you should deliver the directly and interpersonally. You'll be able to allow the employee to ask questions and receive answers promptly; as a result, sometimes, both parties can even arrive at some level of closure.

3. Do it without delay

There's no benefit to dancing around the elephant in the room. Chances are the employee being let go has some intuition on what is about to transpire. You do not want to cause more disappointment by revisiting points of dissatisfaction and rehashing old performance-based conversations. You're both past that point, and if you're doing the letting go, you'll have the documentation mentioned earlier as your backup.

If the employee you're letting go's untimely exit is not performance-based, be clear that the challenge rests with restructuring and that you had to make the call. Don't go into expressing the difficulties in your decision-making. This is a moment of loss, and you want to give space to the employee to sit with it. Your part is to deliver the news and answer questions.

4. Do it with empathy

Just because the employee you're letting go will no longer be working with you doesn't give you the right to be insensitive. You should remain calm and compassionate. When applicable, you should offer the company's compliance in their role in the former employee's securing of unemployment benefits. You should show gratitude for an area where the employee saw some degree of success. And most importantly, you should do your best to end on a positive note. Conclude by wishing the employee good luck and, if in person, offer to shake hands.

Related: No One Wants to Fire Employees. Here Are Some Alternatives to Layoffs.

5. Do it in private, and plan for the departure

Few things are more embarrassing than being let go in front of an audience. If you deliver the bad news, make sure you do it somewhere private. Then plan for an exit scenario that will bring the least discomfort to the departing party (e.g., Should the employee work the rest of the day, or is it better for them to leave immediately?)

6. Conduct exit interviews

The employee and their manager should have separate exit interviews on the employee's last day conducted by HR. The exit interview for the dismissed employee should take place immediately following the completion of the termination. The HR representative will be able to outline what the discharged employee can expect in terms of vacation pay, COBRA and if any financial restitution is applicable. The HR representative will also document any parting feedback from the employee and subsequently confirm the reasons for termination from the manager, including all reasonable steps taken to have remedied the departure before the decision was made.

7. Inform your team

While you don't have to break the news immediately, informing your team of the layoff shortly after the ex-employee's dismissal is essential. It would be best to wait no longer than a day to let folks know what's transpired. When you tell your team, it's important that you do so in person or at least via video chat, sharing only the facts in a poised, professional manner.

Do not criticize or put down the ex-employee and avoid the word "fired." Be as transparent as you can during this entire process, but do not allow yourself to get stuck in the weeds. Do not go into the dismissal details, and remind employees it is company policy not to release personal information. If the rumor mills start up, nip them in the bud by privately discussing with the instigators their concerns to get to the bottom of what's bothering them. Your goal here is to restore any damaged morale, ensure staff members are not diverted from their work, and keep their confidence in you from eroding by being open to concerns.

8. Do not dwell

You've done what you had to do. If you did it right, you were left with no other options. Don't blame yourself for having to make hard decisions. When you're a supervisor, this is par for the course. You can only do so much for an employee who just isn't working out, and if the dismissal terms were purely economic, you were put in the tough spot of cleaning up the implications for people above you. Knowing you did the best you could for that employee before their layoff is what counts. So, remember to give yourself credit for that, and don't dwell on that which is now past.

Related: The 7 Worst Mistakes Companies Make When Laying Off Employees

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