Recently, Better.com made headlines for laying off 9% of its workforce on Zoom. It wasn’t the fact that the company fired people that caught the audience’s attention, though, it was how It is better to choose to separate from the employees.
In a clip that has now gone viral on TikTok, CEO Vishal Garg told Zoom participants that they are part of the 15% of affected employees at the company that will be laid off. Although the recording can be difficult to watch, especially with the holidays approaching, it is a stark reminder to all leaders that we will inevitably face difficult calls. He. She. But we can, and should, approach these difficult conversations with compassion by putting ourselves in the shoes of the employees.
Here are three things to keep in mind when preparing to deliver bad news:
The employee’s feelings come first.
Regularly losing your job is among the five biggest stressors a person can experience, along with death, illness, moving and divorce. For many people, losing a job leads to economic uncertainty as well as grief and loss of confidence. Given this, it is crucial that you focus on the person receiving the news, not your emotions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to be the boss who takes the call and exchanges the news. It would be tempting to tell them how well they keep you up at night. But I promise you, it’s a lot harder for them and so it’s your responsibility to rein in your feelings. Focus on the conversation that supports them and give them the space they need to absorb the information.
You cannot avoid the “why”.
On the Better.com call, the CEO cites efficiency, performance, and productivity as well as a market downturn as reasons behind mass layoffs. I’m a firm believer in people’s ability to absorb tough news and calls, but it’s better to do so clearly about the driving force behind the decision. Be specific about the motivation behind the decision: cash flow, market impact, business model change, or poor performance. It can’t be all four. It would be hard for the staff to absorb any of these reasons, but they are fair. If you’re not clear about the “why” you will add more confusion and frustration which is a difficult combination that can lead to more attrition.
Being human goes a long way.
It is very difficult, especially on a large scale, to make parting ways seem personal. But how someone leaves the company has a huge impact on whether they will recommend a friend to your organization. Given that, emailing employees from a generic alternate email address versus having a human on the other side of the conversation is never a good thing.
One CHRO I interviewed during the pandemic had had to make a significant layoff, and they worked with managers to ensure that every employee affected received a follow-up note from their manager. Then, they hosted group question sessions for people to ask for help and advice to go through the next steps. No matter the size and scope, the more humane you are in your process, the better for everyone involved.
People management and leadership often involve difficult calls. It’s very important that we don’t skip the most important aspect of difficult conversations: being human. By focusing on the people affected, providing a clear rationale for your approach, and circulating public emails for personal contact, you build confidence in that future, and hopefully your former employees will be grateful for that.