How to Lay-Off a Good Employee: a 4-step process | COVID19
Employing someone begins a relationship with them. Like any relationship in this world, there are rules and best practices on how to start, build or potentially transition it to something else. The universal belief is that nobody ventures into this, or any meaningful relationship hoping to end it on terms that leave little to be desired.
If this is in fact the case, then it is worth examining why we are constantly coming across stories of companies laying off their employees, sending them out on their backs with a bitter taste. Is it because employers become insensitive transactionists along the way and decide to punish their hardworking employees for economic situations understandably beyond their control? What lessons can be learnt from companies who lay off people who can still speak highly of them?
This article takes the view that most employers are in fact just well-intentioned people who get sleepless nights whenever the economy or so-called acts of God force their hand to let go of some of their own. Reasons being entirely unrelated to poor performance. Reasons like the COVID19 pandemic which has crippled economic heavyweights, and seemingly untouchable industries globally.
So what can employers do better as they manage the inevitable, firing good hardworking employees?
1. Mindset shift from terminating a contract to transitioning a relationship
The most important first step is understanding that you are not ending this relationship. Relationships never really end, they transition. A transition to different rules and dynamics of commitment and engagement. Dynamics with both consequences and privileges that can be foreseen and ultimately managed. So the first question you need to ask once you reach this daunting decision has to be about what kind of relationship you and your company would want to continue with this employee. Since they are a potential collaborator, decision maker and even employee of your company, does their experience with you potentially affect your business in the future? Hoping your answer to this question is a yes, prepare for the next step.
2. Tap into your non-financial resources to give them a softer landing
Many employers, purely out of guilt, promise to do their best to help the good employees they lay off to find new jobs and new income streams. Shockingly it is often a commitment they never even attempt to fulfil. Be different and actually assign someone from your People/HR team to keep an eye and look out for them as part of their job responsibilities. Instead of having sleepless nights about how you will break the news to outgoing employee, how about using that time to find out how to position them for their next job? This can range from a detailed and elaborate recommendation letter to tapping into your network of decision makers and find out who needs extra hands, or who may in the foreseeable future. Just DO something. The thought counts because there’s always something you can do to help someone get their next gig. Position yourself to share some positive steps to accompany what is a fatal blow.
3. Respect them enough to personally give them a heads-up. Even a few days
The professional world is built on an unspoken but unrealistic understanding that our jobs are devoid of emotion and separate from our personal lives which generally happen over the weekend. This energy is often what decision makers tend to tap into when they communicate layoffs. Imagine waking up in the morning, getting all dressed up thinking about how you will ace the tasks of the day in pure obedience to your manager only to find out that you have been locked out of your company’s CRM and most important internal platforms. As you ravel in this initial confusion, you speak to your IT personnel who advise you to wait as they “get to the bottom of the tech glitch.” 3 hours pass by and your manager out of the blue informs you that the previous day was actually your last day and they have been meaning to speak to you. Only now it hits you that even the IT team were in the know all this time, managing the latest threat to internal security and privacy, you. Of course it is not that extreme, but your manager felt it was less important to give you a heads-up and have the last day you have always envisioned. If this sounds horrific to you as a manager, there is no reason for you to do it to someone you manage. If you cannot uphold their contractual notice period, at least give them a heads-up in person. Even a few days.
4. Share with their colleagues why and how you fired them.
Assuming you have executed the previous steps well, this one should be seamless. Take this whole ordeal as an opportunity to show ethical leadership and compassion, as engrained in the company values on your value board. At all times during this process, know that an important group of people are watching your every move and some are whispering behind the scenes. This group of people are the employees you do not lay off, the ones you retain. It is naïve at best to think that they are just feeling fortunate to live to see another day. The word is out and whether you acknowledge or not, you and your company’s real DNA is out for everyone to make their own judgement. They are watching how you treat and dispose their colleagues and friends who, like them, meaningfully contributed to your vision and did no wrong. They realize that this could very much happen to them and the wiser ones among them can recognize your missteps and start planning to leave you. Your effort in giving their colleague a decent exit with a soft landing is what will earn you their continued respect and loyalty.
If it was not obvious already, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of how humbling life can be. What is even more obvious now is how our work lives are as sensitive as is our “personal” lives. Employment is supposed to be an unemotional transaction where an employee commits their unmitigated time and intellect in exchange for a regular check. In reality this check has broader significance than a dollar value. It represents their belief in your vision, the weekly 9–5 grind to show for it. Their ability to keep their loved ones safe and secure during a global pandemic. Their work life, is their life.
So the next time as a decision maker, you inform someone that you are cutting their check, be mindful that their lives are about to be shaken more than you will ever comprehend. The least you can do is to show them out of your door on the right footing, appreciative of the many hours they spent building your empire.