Reduce the Trauma of a Layoff Or Firing With an Offboarding Plan

Staff reductions involve multiple moving parts. You make gut-wrenching decisions about who’s being let go, HR drafts severance agreements, and your legal department assesses compliance with federal labor regulations. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You make all these tactical decisions, yet there’s still a need to address the people side as well. For example, who’s bringing the tissues?

Merely 25% of organizations have a formal offboarding process in place.

As your company reduces its staff, even the smallest details matter. With adequate preparation, you can keep an eye on all of those moving parts in a way that’s compassionate and empowering to everyone involved.

To start your outplacement plan, you need to get specific in these four key areas.

1. Where/when will notification meetings happen?

Think through logical details, such as what day of the week separated employees will be notified, when and how separated employees should clean out their workspaces, and what the person’s next steps are. They will be shocked and unsure of what to do first. Don’t deliver the news on a Friday; that’s the worst.

Privacy and confidentiality are very important, but the manager’s office is not the place to hold the meeting. Select a neutral ground like a conference room. This allows the manager to end the meeting by getting up and leaving after the meeting is complete – avoiding the awkwardness of a protracted conversation.

2. Who’s handling the notifications?

Ideally, the separated employee’s direct manager leads the meeting. Under special circumstances, a more senior manager and/or human resources representative may also be present. You will do the direct manager a tremendous service by training them on the reasons for the layoff, the emotional responses they may receive, and the questions they will likely be asked.

It helps if this person is provided with talking points before the meeting. There are five key areas to cover. Additional information can be provided based on the affected employee’s response and questions, but be sure the manager discusses:

  1. Business rationale for the downsizing.
  2. Clear notification message, including effective date.
  3. Benefits/severance package details.
  4. Outplacement services.
  5. Structure for next steps.

You should also prepare a written notice for notifying managers to give the separated employee, along with additional resources (severance details, COBRA information, and unemployment benefits applications).

3. How will you empower separated employees?

Consider if redeployment is an option for separated employees. If so, explain other career opportunities within your company. Your guidance on how to best pursue those opportunities will be a welcomed lifeline for separated employees.

Offering outplacement services will help the individual turn their situation around quickly. Research suggests jobseekers are 2.67 times more likely to land a new position when they get help with job search skills. To best set your former employees up for success, explore outplacement services that offer one-on-one career coaching, state-of-the-art technology, and support until a successful transition.

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4. What will you do to retain your workforce moving forward?

Downsizings are a traumatic experience for everyone involved – including the remaining employees. It’s critical to meet with remaining team members after all separated employees have been notified. Be prepared for a wide range of emotions from this group as well: confusion, fear, guilt, and anger are common.

Forty-eight percent of companies that offer outplacement programs report having mostly “highly engaged” employees – 60% in all compared to U.S. national average of 34%.

Develop a “going forward” plan that offers remaining staff a clear direction. They’ll need to understand the reorganization, how it affects the company’s mission and future direction, how separated employees’ responsibilities are being redistributed, and whom they should contact with questions and concerns.

Utilizing a well thought out and compassionate plan for your downsizing will help you, your company, your remaining employees, and your separated employees move into a brighter future faster.

Dan Coffey

Dan Coffey is the practice leader of outplacement at IMPACT Group and serves as managing consultant for executive career services. As a senior executive career coach, Dan has partnered with C-suite and vice president executive clients across a wide range of companies, including Allstate, Anixter, Brunswick, ConAgra, Crate & Barrel, Eaton Corporation, Edison International, GATX, OfficeMax, Peabody Energy, Transamerica, Wrigley/Mars, W.W. Grainger, Unilever and United Airlines, to advance their careers and professional goals.

Before his two and a half decades of experience in executive career coaching, Dan held business unit/P&L operating and marketing executive leadership roles in healthcare businesses. He is a board certified coach, certified in The Birkman Method® and Benchmarks (the Center for Creative Leadership’s 360-degree leadership assessment tool) and fluent in employing the MBTI to help individuals understand their leadership and work styles.

In addition to a multiple career portfolio, Dan holds several degrees. He earned his MBA at Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, where he served on its Chicago alumni board and career development committee. Previously, he earned a Master of Divinity (MDiv) with emphasis in counseling, and an undergraduate degree in political science.  A Colorado native, Dan loves to take his two boys and wife to play golf, hike and taste wine in the Rockies every year.