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How HR Can Help Managers Lay Off Employees In a Dignified Way

November 1, 1993
Related Topics: Downsizing, Termination, Featured Article
Now that downsizings and reorganizations have become a necessary part of business for most U.S. companies, there are many workers who wouldn't be surprised if they received a layoff notice at some time in their careers. This doesn't mean, however, that employees relish the idea of being laid off. What they want most is to be treated with dignity during the process. Here are 10 basic principles that HR professionals can use to help managers lay off or eliminate employees in a respectful way. These principles include:

  1. Conduct the meeting in private.
    A terminated employee has the right to a private severance meeting conducted by the employee's supervisor, not someone from the HR department. Because termination is a personal issue, employees want to hear the news from their supervisors, not from someone they don't know.
  2. Keep the meeting short and to the point.
    The meeting should last no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Employees want to know the facts. They don't want nuances and indirect language. As soon as the employee is seated, explain why you called him or her in: "Fred, I'm sorry, but your position has been eliminated." Repeat the statement if necessary, and ask if he or she understands it.
  3. Offer support and compassion, but don't give hope of reversing the decision.
    For example, tell the employee that this decision has been reviewed at the highest levels, and there's no possibility for appeal. Tell him or her that efforts have already been made, without success, to find him or her another assignment.
  4. Explain why the company made the decision.
    Tell the employee why he or she is being laid off: a change in the company's strategic direction, or whatever is the reason for the decision. Don't argue about issues that should have been resolved long ago. Be firm in telling the employee that the decision is made, and it's final.
  5. Don't make discriminatory statements.
    Be aware of the many U.S. laws on discrimination and wrongful termination. The HR department should be involved in giving managers advice on what they can and can't say to employees.
  6. Control your emotions.
    Don't try to keep the employee from leaving the room (you could be accused of false imprisonment); don't touch (you could be prosecuted for assault and battery); don't yell (you could be accused of intentional infliction of emotional abuse).
  7. Give the severance package in writing.
    When doing this, explain that the company wishes to make the employee's transition as painless as possible. Express confidence in the employee and his or her prospects. Remind that person that this termination was a business decision, and that you'll do all you can to help him or her.
  8. Encourage the employee to take positive, rather than destructive, actions.
    Tell that person to follow the advice of the outplacement consultant who will help him or her move in a positive career direction.
  9. Plan a graceful exit.
    Walk the employee to the door or bring the outplacement consultant to him or her.
  10. Inform other employees, customers and suppliers of the decision.
    Don't criticize the employee. Make the statement simple and non-blaming, such as, "Joe left the company to pursue other interests."

There should be no winners and losers in a termination. All parties should come out as whole as possible with a promise for a better future.

Personnel Journal, November 1993, Vol. 72, No.11 p. 66.

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