Compassion when Downsizing
Profitability is the object of all businesses, whether they are small or large businesses. It is a given that organizations want to increase revenues and decrease costs. After all, companies want to report higher profits for their investors and shareholders. Therefore, it does not matter if we are in a pandemic; organizations must continuously take a head count and determine what people are required.
With that in mind, Human resources and Senior decision-makers often find themselves in positions where they may need to downsize the number of employees in their companies. Often these decision-makers must painstakingly consider what job functions can be reassigned to other employees and what employees need to be downsized.
When these decisions are made, family members of employees are directly or indirectly affected. For each person who is downsized, there is a multiplier effect of 2, 3, 4 or perhaps even five or more family members who may be impacted by the decision to restructure one person from the organization. These other family members are often dependent upon the decision-maker who has been restructured. The schooling, basic living requirements, and extra-curricular activities of all family members can be significantly impacted by the layoff of one family member.
Missed Opportunity for Compassion when Downsizing at Better.com
Now, let’s reflect on a layoff of 900 employees from Better.com. Given the possibility that the layoff may impact 3 or 4 family members on average for each employee, it can negatively affect many people. Many will remember how the news was delivered by its senior leader. All people were called into a video meeting and abruptly told that they did not have a job anymore. There were reports that the CEO wanted to give only one week’s severance pay to each laid-off employee. Media reported worldwide the cold manner with which a Better.com layoff notice was delivered to its employees. Many employees complained about the lack of empathy and consideration that affected the laid-off employee and their families.
Downsizing Preferred Practice
I suppose if there is anything I have learned in my 20+ years of career experience in working with employees who have been downsized, it is that consideration is a critical element in ensuring that notice is compassionately delivered to downsized employees.
Like communicating any bad news to anyone in life, it is essential that the HR Professional show compassion and consideration when planning to downsize each employee.
There is never a great time to downsize. However, please try not to lay off anyone just before or immediately after a holiday, birthday or another special day in a person’s life.
Many of us have been downsized in our careers. We know how we felt when the news was delivered. Whether you have been laid off or not, it is essential to self-check when you plan to downsize an individual. Continuously ask yourself throughout the entire layoff process how you would feel if it were you who was being laid off. By considering how you would feel if you were being laid off, let this be a guide to ensure that you plan and downsize an employee with the same compassion and care that you would want for yourself.
Compassionate Downsizing Guide
- Do your research first. Become an expert on the laws and rights of an employee laid off. Learn and apply the laws concerning severance pay in the province where you are located. More importantly, be “fair and reasonable” for the time of service that the employee was with the organization.
- Plan to do the downsizing in person, if possible. This has been complicated during a time of a pandemic or distance between the person who is delivering the news. Conduct the meeting ideally on a Tuesday or Wednesday (the middle of the week), and when you think fewer people may be present in the office. Schedule the meeting in a more isolated room from other employees or managers.
- Learn as much as you can about the employee who is being downsized. Seek out information if they have a partner/spouse, family or friend that they can contact after the employee has been delivered the news.
- Schedule a meeting on a day that is not on a birthday or religious holiday or is too closed to a special or an important day in the employee’s life.
- Prepare and communicate a very well-planned message to the employee. Let them know that this layoff decision is a business decision. Although they may want to ask a lot of questions, keep to your prepared message, assuring the employee that the decision is a business decision and that you and other HR professionals in the company would like to help them as best as your company can, to navigate through this transition period as they look for new employment
- After communicating the news about the downsizing to the employee, provide this employee with the opportunity to express his thoughts. Tell the employee that personnel in the HR department will do what they can to positively support them during this transition. Tell them that you empathize with their situation. Emphasize that you and your colleagues will do what they can to help them through the period of layoffs.
- Offer them career transition or coaching support. Encourage the employee to utilize the services of an Outplacement Consultant that the company is offering them as this support will help them during this critical time in their life. If the company has an Employee Assistance Program, show them, Employee Assistance Program’s services.
- Schedule a suitable day and time with the employee so that he/she can pick up his possessions.
- Be prepared to offer the employee a taxi to drive home. Even if they have their car, they should still be offered a taxi. They and a friend should be picked up in the car later.
- Offer a reference to employees if it is the company’s policy.
The above ideas are some recommendations a company’s HR professionals and managers should consider when downsizing an employee.
Downsizing is often not easy for the employee who has been downsized. In most cases, the company HR professional who delivers the news may be stressed and worried about providing the news to the laid-off employee. However, if proper time, consideration, and compassion are considered in the planning, preparing, and delivering the notice of a layoff, the event can occur more smoothly. And it should always be remembered that compassion and consideration should be provided to any employee who has been downsized.