By all accounts, the spate of mass tech layoffs earlier this year were badly mishandled by the companies involved, causing deep and lasting psychological harm to both the employees who were let go, and those who were left behind.
Employees had no warning, and were told of the layoffs via email or texts. Survivors were left in the dark, worrying about their colleagues, and wondering if they were next on the chopping block.
“The tech layoffs provide a good lesson in what NOT to do when you must lay off people,” says Kelly Hultink, WSPS Healthy Workplaces Consultant. "The psychological stress, financial strain and job insecurity can lead to serious physical and mental health conditions for the laid off employee. The lack of empathy and respect given creates fear, uncertainty, lack of trust and decreased performance in the remaining staff."
Layoffs or cutbacks may be necessary in any company due to a poor economy or other factors. If your company is considering layoffs, Kelly has this advice. “Remember you are dealing with humans, not replaceable objects. By taking a caring approach, you can help minimize the psychological harm to employees and the negative impacts on your business.” Kelly has six tips on how to do this.
6 tips for carrying out layoffs
Infusing the layoff process with empathy and kindness is not hard if you step into the shoes of the person being laid off, says Kelly. At first, you will experience shock, then possibly anger, anxiety and worry about your family, your finances, and your future. You may even feel grief at the loss of fulfilling work, and workplace friendships. Now, imagine being let go in a callous fashion on top of that.
Here are Kelly’s six tips for a more humane approach:
Advise your workforce ahead of time that layoffs are coming, why they are necessary, and how employees will be affected. Express sadness and reluctance about the layoffs. Open channels for employees to ask questions.
Prepare managers/supervisors in advance. Managers may feel guilt or anxiety when it comes to layoffs. A compassionate approach to the layoffs will help everyone deal with the situation better. If necessary, provide a script for managers to use. Also, provide details about the process, the reasons, and the available resources.
Relay the news in person, and in a private setting. “Never tell someone they are laid off in an e-mail, text or group meeting,” says Kelly. “Layoffs should be done face to face, one person at a time.” If someone works remotely, a private video call may be needed.
Keep the conversation concise but warm. Recognize the employee's contribution to the company, explain the reasons for the layoff, and discuss what benefits, including access to EAPS, are still available to the employee, and for how long. Provide a layoff letter, proof of employment, and an HR contact to set up an EI application.
Offer support and a sympathetic ear. “Allow time during the conversation for people to recover, and to ask questions.” Ask them what supports they need: for example, a recommendation letter.
Keep everyone in the loop. “Workers who are left behind may also suffer fear and anxiety. Provide facts, without creating more fear, so they are better able to cope with the layoffs and maintain their trust in the employer,” says Kelly. For example, how many people were laid off, how the layoffs were carried out, whether more layoffs are planned, and how their workload or jobs may change as a result. “Reassure, encourage, show appreciation.”
How WSPS can help
The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace includes ‘civility and respect’ in its list of 13 factors that influence psychological harm prevention.
• Mental Health First Aid Training (2-day, classroom)
• Psychological Health & Safety Awareness (20 min, eCourse)
• Leading for Psychological Safety in Challenging Times (1 day, classroom)