Why You Need to Manage Layoffs Right, Even During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Apr 29, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

To say the U.S. job market did an about-face last month is an understatement. Many employers went from aggressively recruiting talent to suddenly planning a layoff. It was a completely unexpected turn of events for most of us, but one we’re all learning from—and one that has made clear to me just how essential it is to support laid-off employees as they exit our organizations during this unprecedented crisis.

With millions of Americans newly unemployed, the job market is now an extremely competitive one for candidates. Finding a new job in today’s economy will take longer—and will require more preparation, flexibility, tenacity, and creative thinking from the job seeker. This means that HR leaders in the unfortunate position of having to conduct layoffs or furloughs must be cognizant and sensitive to the increased needs of affected employees — and respond in kind by providing additional accommodations, help, and support.

Here are four important ways employers can support employees affected by coronavirus-related layoffs.

1. Give recommendations—even before you’re asked

Even when you assure laid-off employees that they are not being terminated based on performance-related issues, many affected workers tend to feel a sense of shame or embarrassment about their termination, and sometimes wonder if their contributions to the organization were lacking. As a result, some laid-off employees become reluctant or afraid to ask their former employers to serve as a professional reference. HR professionals and managers can address this by proactively offering to serve as a reference or write recommendation letters for the affected worker’s potential future employers. Better yet, you or the employee’s manager can go ahead and write a brief, public recommendation on the employee’s LinkedIn page that attests to the worker’s skills and your appreciation for their contributions. This costs nothing but a few minutes of time—while giving a boost to the affected employee’s job search and overall morale.

2. Use your network

HR practitioners are often master networkers who boast an impressive Rolodex of talent recruiters and acquisition experts. Now is the time to use those contacts on behalf of your affected employees. Take the time to consider whom you can connect your outgoing workers with, whether that is a recruiting firm, another HR manager, or even a competitor that is hiring at this time. If your organization is laying off a large number of employees, you might make these connections in bigger groups—for example, by giving all your affected engineers a curated list of tech recruiters.

3. Offer the most generous severance package you can afford

A severance package can encompass many benefits, from severance pay to education benefits to health and wellness discounts. Since we are in the midst of a health pandemic, you might especially make a special effort to extend medical coverage for your departing employees as long as possible, so that they are able to both save money and the trouble of looking for new health insurance—and relatedly, new doctors and specialists—during this challenging time. Consider the individual worker’s circumstances in crafting severance packages to see if there are benefits that are relatively easy and affordable for you to offer, but would be meaningful and invaluable for the employee. For example, if the affected employee does not have a computer at home, you might consider allowing them to keep—or borrow for a time—their work laptop.

4. Provide long-term outplacement services

Outplacement is career transition services provided by employers to outgoing employees to help them find new jobs more quickly and easily. Once a benefit reserved for executive and senior-level employees, outplacement today is now increasingly considered a standard benefit that should be offered to all employees. In fact, a recent SHRM headline announced that “outplacement services are no longer a secondary perk,” and CareerArc’s Outplacement and the American Workforce Study found 83% of Americans believe outplacement services should be offered to every employee who is laid off by their employer. Outplacement is especially important for employees who have stayed with one organization for a long time or are in industries heavily affected by coronavirus-related issues, so they can best market themselves in this rapidly changing, online-driven job market. This benefit provides practical solutions for laid-off employees and signals to retained employees that you value your people and will make every effort to do the right thing for them, even when faced with difficult decisions.

. . . . .

As Mark Cuban pointed out last month, how companies treat their employees during this crisis “is going to define their brand for decades.” These long-term impacts on your company culture and brand will undoubtedly outlast the coronavirus pandemic, which is why layoffs must be conducted in a respectful, compassionate manner that retains the affected employees’ dignity—and helps them get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

While the coronavirus pandemic feels completely unprecedented, the world has weathered health pandemics before—many of them, in fact. History shows us that this crisis, too, will come to an end. Forward-thinking organizations are already preparing for that time by going above and beyond to retain positive relationships with their employees, even those who must, for the time being, be laid off or furloughed. By providing as much support as you can for these workers, employers can protect the morale of remaining employees, be in a better position to attract talent as the economy starts expanding again, and even bring back boomerang employees.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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