How to breathe through layoffs

I’ve spent so many sleepless nights in my life worried about whether I was going to get laid off that I can personally relate to the fact that last year alone we saw more than 67,000 tech employees lose their jobs, and a further 100,000 workers get laid off too.

For employees, being laid off is an uncomfortable experience – their thoughts will inevitably begin to spiral about all of their responsibilities – their mortgage, their other bills, their medical expenses and all the other implications of the ‘What if?’

Even the spectre of possibly being made redundant will impact staff. Uncertainty will affect their productivity and effectiveness at work. It’s hard to keep things together without getting distracted by the big question: ‘Is it going to happen to me?’

Which brings me on to the often forgotten person in all of this – the HRD of HR professional who’s actually going to be laying people off in person.

This is the person who – certainly in the short term – will have an enormous impact on someone’s life.

Remember…HR people – you feel pain too

It’s not a pleasant process doing any headcount reduction – even if the reasons are imminently practical, and to ensure the long-term survival of the organization.

But just because you’re professional doesn’t mean you’re heartless, even if that sometimes feels like the expectation.

It’s natural that you’re going to feel bad about this, especially at this time of year, when things already feel a bit more bleak and miserable.

You’ve likely developed relationships with these people.

You may even mentor some of them.

You may know their families.

Knowing that you now have the responsibility of deciding whether they stay or go and delivering news to them that will likely impact their lives, is a heavy burden to bear, even if it is “part of the job.”

Breathe through it

So how should you cope?

In my 20-plus years of leading teams at Fortune 500 companies and startups in Silicon Valley, I’ve also been in the position where I’ve had to be the person deciding who will get be laid off.

In my experience of this, I would say it’s important to be both rational, but also have a heart.

Consider these key questions: What does the team need to get accomplished in the short term? Who is most needed to accomplish our goals at this time? Who will be able to contribute most effectively and possibly step up after the changes take place?

Once you’ve decided, now you have to deliver that difficult news.

It’s important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and be empathetic.

Think about how you would want to receive this news.

Ask yourself: What’s the kindest way to deliver it so that it’s clear and also compassionate?

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Also remember to show yourself compassion. You’re not a robot, you have feelings, and even though you may be the bearer of bad news, it might be upsetting for you as well.

Make sure that you practice self-care.

Before you head into the office or hop on Zoom to have these difficult conversations, try this grounding breath-work technique to help you get centered .

If laying people off makes you anxious, one of the best breath-work techniques for anxiety is the 4-7-8 breath technique.

 

Use this technique to calm yourself down and bring yourself back to center.

The power of deep breathing

Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to manage your stress and anxiety, and to prevent you from making any rash decisions that are fueled purely by emotions.

Breath-work helps you literally breathe through those feelings so you can calm your nervous system, get grounded and make decisions with a clearer mind.

No matter where you are in the spectrum of those affected by layoffs, use these strategies and breathing techniques to support you throughout the process.

Remember: But don’t give up.

Layoffs are difficult, and doing them around the New Year may feel devastating.

You will(and the people you let go), will survive this and you will come out of it wiser and more resilient.

Remember to practice self-care, stay confident and just breathe.

Zee Clarke is a Harvard MBA who went from leading teams at Fortune 500 companies and startups in Silicon Valley to teaching mindfulness and breath-work to people of color after experiencing racial profiling and harassment by the police to microaggressions in the workplace.

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