Published on 28 Jan 2023

The stand-up way to lay off

LAYOFFS can and should be carried out in a respectful and humane way, say researchers at Singapore's business schools. Here's how:

1. Develop a clear communication plan

Kenneth Tai, associate professor of organisational behaviour and human resources at Singapore Management University, said impacted employees should be provided with a clear and open explanation of why a layoff is necessary and what options the organisation has considered before resorting to retrenchment.

Management should also place strong emphasis on what will be done to support them, such as counselling, or opening a helpline to keep communication lines open.

The plan should cover every step of the rollout, including what is said before the layoff slips are handed out, follow-up actions, all-hands meeting for employees, and notifications to business partners, investors and the media.

Kelvin Yeo from Nanyang Business School (NBS) said companies should also be transparent about the retrenchment criteria - the functions or jobs that are particularly impacted relative to their business situation and planned realignment. This should come across as objective and business-driven with no implication of any bias or prejudice, he said.

David Yew, a senior lecturer from NBS, said leaders should also aim to reduce the uncertainty for staying employees and address organisational viability, continuance of pay and benefits, job design, management distrust, and survivor's guilt.

2. Prepare relevant personnel

Tai said senior leadership must be visible, with the chief executive officer taking on the role of the leading spokesperson for the announcement. They should be coached on delivering such news with the appropriate emotional tone conveying sincerity, sympathy and authenticity. A list of relevant points and frequently asked questions can be on hand to ensure consistency of communications, but they should be discouraged from blindly sticking to the script.

Managers should check where everyone will be on announcement day. If an affected employee will not be on-site, arrangements should be made for the notification meeting to be conducted by video conference, and not via telephone or e-mail.

Coordination with the information technology (IT) department is also key to ensure that the affected employee's systems access will not become a cold, distant reminder that they have been laid off.

3. Coordinate the unfolding of events

All employees should be given a heads-up on the announcement date, with the layoff notices themselves conducted through private meetings between the impacted employee and their direct supervisor and a human-resources representative, Tai said.

The company should then follow up with an in-person all-hands meeting, with video arrangements made for those who cannot be physically present to accommodate all attendees, where employees are allowed to clarify their doubts and have their questions answered. Ensure opportunities for questions and answers - two-way dialogue and communication - and that the meeting is recorded for future availability.

Agreeing, Yeo highlighted that companies should not continue to keep the two groups separated after the private meetings - although most companies don't do it today for fear that the terminated employees will potentially pass on their distress to those staying.

"If the company has already outlined and explained their plans beforehand, this fear is largely unfounded as their staff would have been mentally prepared to some extent," he added. "If anything, allowing the terminated staff to continue to have contact with their colleagues helps both parties to better manage and come to terms with the situation."

Source : The Business Times