Downsizing an organization’s workforce is an increasingly common occurrence in the United States, typically in reaction to shifting market conditions or changing technology. While such moves are painful for all involved, they are usually a necessary step to ensure the long-term health of the company. Unfortunately, many leaders lose sight of the fact that how they approach the discussion is critically important to the wellbeing of those affected, and to the future success of the company.

Don’t Leave the Human at the Door of Human Resources

 Layoffs are not something that any leader wakes up in the morning thirsting to do. In fact, research shows that a reactive downsizing may actually backfire if the costs associated with productivity losses and eventual retraining outweigh the short-term savings.  But once it is determined that there is no other alternative, you need to make sure the conversation is had in the right way.  Often HR professionals and leaders work together to develop talking points and scripts so that the employees delivering the news can stay on message and mitigate risk. But so often the most important element is left out: emotion. No matter how matter-of-fact you may try and make the discussion, you can’t escape the raw emotion that both the employee delivering the message and the employee receiving the message are bound to feel – this is a lifechanging event.   Leading with your head and your heart is essential during something as difficult as a headcount reduction.  

Unintended Consequences – Your Employer Brand

Finding the necessary balance WILL directly impact your employer brand, company, and personal leadership reputation. In turn, your ability to attract and retain the best employees will be directly impacted. And don’t forget about those employees you have retained – how you treat their peers will shape how they feel about you as an employer. You will either create loyal employees or encourage them to look elsewhere. People are highly aware that when there are changes, it could just as easily have been them who were laid off and dealing with the guilt of skirting a layoff is not an easy emotion for people to confront head-on.

In addition, consumers have taken a heightened interest in how companies treat their employees during downsizing. Data from a new Morning Consult report shows that 84% of respondents said they are more likely to buy from companies that treat their workers with flexibility and empathy. In that same study, they found that 62% said a statement about support being given to laid-off employees would make them more likely to continue purchasing from a brand they already buy from. Consumers are paying attention.

Compassion, Empathy, and Dignity Matter

Remembering that those who are affected by a downsizing event are human beings is both the simplest and most difficult thing to do. 

When reducing your organization’s workforce, showing compassion for the human experience will plant the seeds for your organization’s long-term success. Transparency in providing answers can help to reduce anxiety, while showing humility and vulnerability demonstrate it’s more than just business to you as a company.  Notify people privately, answer their questions, clearly communicate their important contributions to the organization, and give them time to say goodbye to their friends and colleagues.

The Final Word

Compassion for the human experience matters.  Making tough changes correctly will help plant seeds for your organization’s future success.  It’s never easy confronting the realities that face our organizations. Just don’t forget to SEE that person you’re talking to, be truly present in the conversation and, by all means, provide them with the services necessary to begin moving forward. 

At the LAK Group, we help people who have been through a workforce reduction identify and secure outcomes aligned with their passion. Providing outplacement defines corporate culture, elevates employer brand, and provides a lifeline to help people find their next opportunity. Contact us to find out more. Outplacement.  On purpose.