What to Say When You Layoff an Employee

If you have to speak to an employee about a layoff, it can be an unpleasant, awkward situation. Losing a job is often a disaster for employees. It can affect their lives, seriously. It's critically important to reduce the impact of the layoff and to provide positive information to counteract its negative effects.

Issues in Discussing Layoffs

Notifying your employees of layoffs requires sensitivity, tact, and above all consideration for the effect on their situations. It's also advisable to provide staff with as much advance notice of the layoff as possible to allow them to adjust to the new situation. 

Important: Please note that this may be an extremely traumatic situation for the employee. Any indication of severe stress, particularly in older staff, should be considered a potentially serious health issue.

It's vital for management to make every effort give the staff member reassurance and show clear understanding of the employee's issues.

Positive messages are required as well as the grim news of the layoff. Well-managed layoff schemes have built-in support mechanisms like training and other devices to help employees in these very difficult circumstances. These additional supports are often able to provide employees with good options for job and career development.

Speaking to Employees about Layoffs

Experienced managers use a range of techniques to lessen the shock of a layoff for their staff:

  • Managers at appropriate levels conduct personal interviews with their affected staff.  These interviews are best conducted between managers and staff who are well enough acquainted to have mutual credibility and respect.
  • State that the business has unavoidably been forced to lay off staff and that unfortunately the employee's position has been terminated.
  • State that the employee is being given as much advance notice as possible and then inform them of the date of the layoff. This acts as positive reinforcement, reducing the impact of the information.
  • If at all possible, inform the employee that allowances will be made for them to apply for other jobs. They'll have to apply for these jobs anyway, and it's a courtesy, as well as a realistic option, to reassure staff and provide this added support.
  • Ask the employee if they will require job references. More positive reinforcement, removing a natural concern.
  • Ask the employee if they would like to take training available through the employer's training programs in the interim period.

Example

"John, please sit down. I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this. The business has been forced to make layoffs, and I'm afraid your job is one of the jobs that's had to go.

We're giving everyone as much notice as possible, so you can get things organized. The layoffs take effect on May 31, next year.

You've been here for a while, now, and we'll be sorry to lose you. If you need job references, please ask, I'll be happy to give them.

We've set up a scheme to help people being laid off with job training and interview training. We're also going to allow people to go for job interviews on company time. We're going to provide whatever meaningful, productive assistance we can."