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by Laura Fox
on April 09, 2019

Change Communications: How to Handle a Reduction in Workforce

In order to grow and evolve, companies must change. Companies also go through times of hardship, in order to accomplish change.

That change, though necessary, can sometimes be very uncomfortable and tricky to navigate. For instance, from time to time reductions in workforce may be necessary due to redundancies, cost-savings, or other reasons. To handle workforce reductions as effectively as possible, follow these steps:

Employee FAQs: 11 Must-Answer Questions During Organizational Change  Get the PDF

Plan any benefits or services that you will offer

Before conducting any official layoffs, it’s a good idea to speak with a legal professional to ensure that your plans are legally acceptable. Once you’ve done so, plan for how you will support employees in their transition. Consider offering employees training, resume assistance, or outplacement services that may help them in their job search. Enlist your HR team, decide upon any severance or benefits that will be provided, and put together documents that will lay out all applicable information.

If at all possible, make swift cuts

There’s no getting around the fact that reductions take a blow to company morale. If at all possible, try to conduct your layoffs in one fell swoop, i.e. all on the same day. Meet with each employee individually and face to face, calmly explaining the situation to them, and any support or benefits that will be provided. It’s best to include an HR representative in these discussions. Be prepared with talking points or a FAQ document, which will address common employee concerns and how your company chooses to answer. Questions could include:

  • How long will I continue to receive pay or health benefits?
  • Am I expected to stay on board for a transitional period? If so, how long?
  • What should I do about my direct reports or contractors that I manage?
  • Why am I being let go?
  • Are there any other potential opportunities for me internally?

Handling all layoffs on the same day will allow you to provide some comfort to the remaining teams. Once completed, and as soon as possible, meet with the retained employees, and be upfront and honest about what teams were affected by the reductions and why. Use the opportunity to reassure them that their roles are important and needed, and there are no further reductions planned. Again, be prepared with answers to common questions that you might receive. Welcome questions from the team, and answer as transparently as possible. If you cannot answer a question due to privacy issues, explain that. If you do not know the answer, commit to following up with the employee after you find the answer.

Remember to use compassion

For employees that are let go, this can be an incredibly stressful and emotional transition for them. They will likely be upset, surprised, anxious about their next steps and even how they will pay their bills. Speak to them as honestly as you can, and treat them with dignity and respect. Allot enough time for them to ask questions, and ensure that conversations are conducted in a private space.

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Don’t forget to plan your communications

Each of the above three items require a carefully thought out change communications strategy. Timing is crucial here, and should be mapped out by the hour to ensure news doesn’t leak and gossip doesn’t spread. A plan will help you stay organized to ensure all parties are notified at the appropriate time and allows you to control the story.

As mentioned above, plan to speak to your retained employees after the layoffs are complete, and be prepared to share the game plan moving forward. How will work previously done by the leaving employees be completed now? How will responsibilities shift? What about clients? Speaking of clients, be prepared for how you will communicate changes with them. If possible, speak to them personally, explaining any process changes and reiterating that they are your number one priority. In all discussions, remember to speak positively about the employee, but try and direct the conversation to be focused on the customer and how you will address their needs going forward.

Workforce reductions are painful, but with proper planning you can help to lessen the pain experienced by all parties. If you’d like to discuss in more detail, send us a note, we’d love to help.

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