How to (properly) structure a layoff memo

As layoffs continue to dominate the news, at least make sure you communicate them properly, says Mark Murphy:

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Apr 17, 2024

Layoffs are painful enough, but they’re even worse when the memo that announces them is a meandering and cliché-riddled mess that obfuscates the central message; people are about to be let go.

For instance, it’s common for memos announcing staff cuts to spend the opening paragraph (or longer), touting the company’s successes and lofty aspirations, leaving employees to wonder about the purpose of this “Company Update” (or whatever the memo was titled).

While I hope you never need to write a layoff memo, in the event that you do, here’s a four-step process to craft a memo that delivers your message in a clear, structured, and caring way.

Before we get into these though, it’s important to say from the outset that the first thing to understand is that there are four primary communication styles: Intuitive, Analytical, Functional, and Personal.

We know from the million-plus takers of the “What’s Your Communication Style?” quiz that there’s a roughly equal distribution across all four styles, so your memo has to address them all.

With that background in mind, here’s the memo structure you likely need:

Step 1: Address the intuitive communicators

Intuitive communicators prefer to grasp the big picture without getting bogged down in details.

So, start your memo by outlining the broader context and the end goal of the restructuring.

For instance, you might begin with a statement like, “As part of our effort to align with our future goals and adapt to the current economic climate, we must make significant changes to our team structure.”

This approach provides intuitive communicators with the immediate context and conclusion, respecting their preference for brevity and big-picture thinking.

While you don’t beat around the bush, you will want to frame the reason for the upcoming layoffs (e.g., becoming more resource-efficient or correcting a spate of over hiring, etc.). This sets the stage for your decision without obfuscating the bad news or delving into exhaustive specifics.

Step 2: Address the analytical communicators

Next, include a section that appeals to analytical communicators.

These individuals value hard data, specifics, and logical reasoning. When explaining the reasons behind the layoffs, you must provide concrete data and specific examples to support your decisions.

For instance, mention specific economic challenges – such as slowed growth and increased capital costs – and how these factors impact the company’s financial health.

This section might also discuss the company’s financial considerations, the decision to reduce headcount by, say 17%, and the explanation of how this aligns with long-term objectives.

Your goal is to address analytical communicators’ needs for concrete data and rationale.

Step 3: Address the functional communicators

Functional communicators appreciate a clear, step-by-step explanation of processes and decisions.

In your memo, outline the decision-making process that led to the layoffs; the criteria used for determining the changes; and the steps that will follow the announcement.

Remember, this group values understanding each phase of the process and its rationale.

So, explain how the reduction process will occur, including the scheduling of one-on-one meetings, the specifics of severance packages, or any other details about timing, process steps, etc.

This section speaks to functional communicators’ preference for orderly and detailed information.

Step 4: Address the personal communicators

Finally, address personal communicators, who value emotional language and connection.

Acknowledge the impact of the layoffs on individuals and the organization; express gratitude for the contributions of those who will be leaving; and offer support resources.

It’s crucial to convey empathy and respect when addressing these areas, recognizing the personal and emotional dimensions of the layoffs.

So, you might thank departing employees, or acknowledge their contributions, or detail support measures (or do all three).

Given the high-levels of anxiety that accompany layoffs, you could even reiterate severance pay and healthcare coverage.

Cater to personal communicators by addressing the human aspect of the layoffs.

Structure creates success

While your memo should address these four communication styles distinctly, it should also be cohesive and flow logically from one section to the next.

As an example of how to do this, you might want to begin with an overview (intuitive), delve into specifics and rationale (analytical), explain the process (functional), and conclude with empathy and support (personal).

This structure ensures that your message is comprehensive and respectful of diverse communication preferences.

In essence, a well-structured layoff memo acknowledges the complexity of the situation and the diversity of your audience.

By thoughtfully addressing each communication style, you can convey difficult news in a manner that is clear, respectful, and compassionate.

Do this, and ultimately you’ll foster deeper understanding and respect during what are undeniably challenging times.

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