Article: Getting layoffs right: A People Matters Guide

Strategic HR

Getting layoffs right: A People Matters Guide

Layoffs don't have to be brutal. Unlike locked laptops and abrupt goodbyes, some companies prioritise employees with alumni networks and support. Our guide shows you a better way: workforce reductions with people at the core.
Getting layoffs right: A People Matters Guide

In a world of constant change, layoffs are a common solution for companies facing challenges. Whether it's market crashes, tech disruptions, or tough competition, tough choices are inevitable. Crypto giant Coinbase cut back during market downturns, and companies like Peloton trimmed down during shifts in fitness trends. Tech giants like Amazon and Meta realised they had over-hired post-pandemic, leading to painful cutbacks. Big automakers like Ford responded hastily to market changes, with electric vehicles (EVs) leading to hundreds of thousands of jobs cut in the automotive industry. But at what cost? 

Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford Graduate School of Business argues that layoffs don’t even improve performance. Severance packages add weight to the bottom line, unemployment claims rise, and morale sinks. The fear and anxiety of "Am I next?" paralyse the remaining employees.

We saw plenty of that human cost over the last few years. From the cold-hearted Zoom call firing of 2021 to the hasty downsizing at Twitter's rebranded X to the recent shockwaves of Lazada's post-celebration layoffs, a common thread of corporate missteps wove its way through the headlines.

We can do better.

Responsible restructuring isn't just about cuts. It's about reskilling, investing in talent, and emerging stronger. This guide shows you how.

In the year 2024, with the spectre of recession still looming, the question isn't if there will be more layoffs. It is, how can companies navigate them with humanity and responsibility, without leaving a trail of shattered careers and broken trust? This guide explores a strategic process for doing so.

A guide to responsible layoffs

Part I: Navigating Restructuring with Integrity

Why does it matter? Consider the human cost of poorly handled layoffs, exemplified by the recent turmoil at Lazada. Witnessing colleagues lose their livelihoods without clear communication or a shred of empathy not only damages morale but can tarnish your brand. Conversely, embracing responsible restructuring demonstrably yields benefits:

Preserving talent: Treating departing employees with dignity and offering generous support packages can cultivate goodwill and retain vital talent among those who remain.

Maintaining morale: Open communication, transparency, and a focus on minimising disruption can prevent anxieties and ensure ongoing efficiency during a challenging time.

Guarding your reputation: By prioritising ethical treatment and responsible practices, you build trust with employees, investors, and the wider community, solidifying your long-term standing.

Minimising complexities: Following due process, adhering to regulations, and prioritising fairness can avert potential lawsuits and legal troubles arising from poorly managed layoffs.

Harvard Business Review suggests effective restructuring communication involves three key elements: rationale - an honest explanation of why the cuts are necessary; key messages - what does the future hold for the company?;  and audiences - Who needs to hear what?

Ignoring these elements, as showcased in poorly handled layoffs like those at Twitter under Elon Musk or Lazada, can damage your brand for years to come. Even in cases of unit closure, like Macy's store closures or Meta's Connectivity unit dissolution, consider exploring alternative solutions like redeploying high-performing employees before resorting to layoffs.

Ultimately, the "how" of restructuring matters just as much as the "why." In the following sections, we'll equip you with actionable steps and strategies to navigate the restructuring process with integrity and emerge stronger on the other side.

PART II: Strategic Planning

The storm of restructuring looms ahead, but before getting into uncharted waters, you must first lay a secure foundation. This crucial initial phase, meticulously planned and executed, sets the course for a smoother transition and minimises the human cost of workforce reductions. Two pillars hold up this foundation: identifying cost-cutting areas and achieving key leadership alignment.

Identifying Cost-Cutting Areas

Analysing operational expenses from a magnifying glass perspective is key. Scrutinise department performance, identify redundant tasks, and explore opportunities for consolidation. Take inspiration from companies like Zappos, where streamlining back-office functions yielded significant cost savings without impacting core operations. Remember, trimming doesn't have to involve immediate headcount reductions. Consider alternative measures like temporary salary freezes, hiring freezes, or voluntary buyouts to prioritise employee well-being.

Layoffs are inevitable, but the impact doesn't have to be crushing. This guide shows you how to navigate the unavoidable with dignity, transparency, and a commitment to your people

Determining Headcount and Timing

While immediate headcount cuts might be tempting, remember, layoffs are the tip of the restructuring iceberg. Analyse current and projected workloads with precision. Can existing teams absorb additional tasks through reskilling or upskilling? Can technology automation fill the gaps? Explore these options before resorting to job cuts. Timing is also crucial. Consider seasonality, upcoming holidays, or major company events. Disrupting morale during peak season can be disastrous. Open communication, even if the exact timing is still fluid, can prepare employees and mitigate anxieties.

Key Leadership Alignment

To restructure effectively, assemble the C-suite team – CEO, CFO, CHRO, CMO, CDO – with business unit leaders and legal counsel. Each has a unique role: CEO directs, CFO manages finances, CHRO ensures team morale, and so on. Encourage open communication and diverse perspectives to avoid conflicts. Embrace disagreements for constructive decision-making.

Examine financial statements, analyse market trends, and forecast future revenue meticulously. Be cautious of inconsistency – hiring replacements post-cost-cutting claims may lead to legal issues and harm your brand. Integrate legal compliance and t regulatory considerations into your financial analysis. Thoroughly plan and execute these steps to establish a strong foundation for responsible restructuring.

PART III: Communication and Implementation

Once the strategic plan is in place, it's time to handle communication and implementation. This crucial phase involves informing stakeholders, ensuring legal compliance, and treating affected employees with respect and support.

Transparency and Empathy

1. Advance Notice: Providing employees with 30-60 days notice is not just a courtesy, it's a show of respect and allows them to prepare for the transition. Be transparent about the decision, the reasons behind it, and the estimated impact.

2. Public Communications: Craft a clear and honest press release or blog post explaining the situation and your company's commitment to responsible restructuring. Avoid generic "mea culpas",  focus on specific steps you're taking to minimise disruption and support departing employees.

3. Internal Communication: Keep employees informed throughout the process, with clear and consistent messaging tailored to different audiences. This builds trust and reduces anxiety.

4. CEO Accountability: CEOs should acknowledge responsibility and express empathy for the impacted individuals.

Ensuring Compliance

1. Legal Counsel: Navigating the various employment laws and regulations surrounding layoffs is essential. Involve your legal team early and ensure compliance with notice periods, severance packages, and non-discrimination policies.

2. Unionised workforces: If your company has unionised employees, specific layoff procedures and collective bargaining agreements must be followed.

3. Public image: consider the potential reputational impact of layoffs and strive to handle the process with transparency and respect for affected all employees.

4. Phased Rollouts: Abrupt announcements can be jarring. Consider a phased approach, distributing layoffs over a period to minimise disruption and maintain continuity.

5. Professional Notification: When informing affected employees, remember empathy and professionalism. Managers or HR representatives should deliver the news personally, explaining the rationale and offering resources f and support.

By prioritising transparency, legal compliance, and employee well-being throughout this phase, companies can navigate the challenges of communication and implementation with integrity and minimise the negative impact of layoffs.

PART IV: Transition and Support

Once the immediate storm of layoffs subsides, it's crucial to build bridges of support for both those departing and those remaining. This phase focuses on internal communication, workforce adjustments, and robust support services, ensuring a smooth transition and maintaining company stability.

1. Transparent Communication for Remaining Crew

Address concerns head-on: Openly discuss the reasoning behind the layoffs, the future trajectory of the company, and any anticipated changes in workload or structure.

Foster open dialogue: Encourage questions, provide clear answers, and actively listen to employee feedback. This builds trust and minimises anxieties.

Celebrate remaining talent: Express appreciation for the continued commitment and resilience of your remaining workforce. This fosters a sense of value and community.

2. Adapting the Workforce to New Shores

Reskill and upskill: Invest in training programs esp AI and its role to equip remaining employees with the skills needed to take on additional responsibilities or fill temporary gaps. This demonstrates long-term commitment and minimises disruption.

Rethink processes and workflows: Analyse remaining tasks and optimise workflows to maximise efficiency and productivity. This can involve automation, collaboration, or cross-training initiatives.

Prioritise well-being: Acknowledge the potential challenges of workload adjustments and provide resources like stress management and counselling to maintain employee morale.

3. Extending a Helping Hand to Departing People:

Generous severance packages: Offer fair and competitive severance packages, including salary continuation, healthcare benefits, and outplacement services. This softens the financial impact and demonstrates empathy.

Career counselling and support: Provide access to career counselling, job placement assistance, and professional development resources to help affected individuals transition to new opportunities. This showcases commitment to their well-being beyond the layoff.

Networking opportunities: Facilitate internal connections and alumni networks to help departing employees navigate their job search and stay connected to the company. This fosters goodwill and promotes brand loyalty.

Seal the story with sympathy

In today's dynamic environment, layoffs are a reality many companies face. However, navigating them with empathy and responsibility is not merely a moral imperative, but also a strategic advantage. By prioritising human well-being, transparency, and ethical practices, companies can minimise disruption, preserve talent, and build trust with stakeholders. This guide equips you with the tools and strategies to navigate layoffs with integrity and emerge stronger on the other side. We believe that every job loss can be an opportunity for growth, both for individuals and for organisations. Embrace the challenge, commit to doing it right, and let this guide be your compass on the journey towards responsible restructuring.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Relations, #Layoffs

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