There’s no denying that communicating layoffs to affected employees is the hardest job that a business owner or HR boss would have to do. There’s nothing worse than having to tell another person that he or she had to go and look for another source of income. It’s also not unusual for the person tasked to break the news to experience guilt and anxiety.
Let’s face it. Communicating layoffs isn’t fun at all. It’s something that every HR or internal business communicator wishes they would not have to do. But in tough economic times, layoffs are unavoidable. Even the biggest firms have to lay off employees.
The key in delivering the bad news is having a solid internal communications strategy, especially if the layoffs are to affect a significant number of employees. You don’t want your business to commit the same mistake that Microsoft had.
In 2014, the IT giant became the subject of media lambasting after it handled the layoff of its 12,500 employees of Nokia (which Microsoft had taken over) in a wrong way. Its executive vice president, Stephen Elop, sent a 1,100 word email that mentioned about the layoffs in two sentences. Worse, the part about the layoffs was buried deep in the text.
In order to avoid that miscue, here are some tips to keep in mind when crafting an internal communications strategy for communicating layoffs:
1. Don’t surprise employees.
Companies would be doing a huge injustice to their employees if they surprise them with job cuts. The key here is to regularly brief employees about the condition of the business, so that they won’t be surprised about layoffs in the future. This is where the importance of an effective internal communications strategy comes in; one where updates about the company’s financial perforce are regularly distributed to the workforce.
Employees should be kept in the loop particularly when a company’s operations are going south. At least they will be forewarned about potential job cuts, and they can prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for that prospect.
2. Communicate fast.
Bad news can spread like wildfire in the corporate world. You don’t want affected employees to know it from other sources, like from their colleagues. Tell them right away so that the period of uncertainty will be minimized.
3. Empower supervisors.
The immediate supervisors of affected personnel should be among the first to be notified of job cuts. After all there is an increased likelihood that personnel will grill their immediate supervisors for clarification. You can also include the supervisors in notification planning. Simply put, these managers are an integral part of your internal communications strategy.
4. Notify the employees personally.
Affected employees need to hear the news in person from the HR manager or their immediate supervisors. They shouldn’t hear it from the media, or read it on their email, just like what happened to the Nokia employees.
5. Prepare a Q&A.
Layoffs will cause confusion in the workplace, even to those employees who were not affected. It is thus recommended that frequently asked questions (FAQs) be distributed in the organization. This will give the management the opportunity to explain the rationale for the job cuts, and clarify other matters.
6. Consistent messaging is key.
Throughout the communications campaign, the messages imparted to employees and other audiences such as investors, local community, and media should be the same. Giving different information to different audiences can only hurt the reputation of the company.
When properly executed, an internal communications strategy can help minimize the backlash that a company will get for job cuts. Companies will suffer fewer scars and gain a better opportunity for success in the future.