No matter how silver-tongued and judicious you are, telling your staff that one of their colleagues has been terminated or laid off is never pleasant. While it may be tempting to allow these situations “blow over” on their own, it is always wise to take control of the message and stop rumors before they have a chance to start.
To help you through these tough conversations, we’d like to share a few tips from HR Magazine contributor, Paul Falcone.
When an employee is laid off because of cutbacks or redundancies
Layoffs—especially those due to cutbacks or position redundancies—are anxiety-inducing and often impact the morale of the entire staff. If possible, allow departing employees to say goodbye to their employees. Falcone suggests we do this for two reasons: First, it shows the entire staff that the departing employee was treated with respect and ultimately will be OK. Second, because it helps with the grieving process.
Next, call a meeting with the remaining employees to formally acknowledge the layoff. After a brief statement, follow up (if it is appropriate) by letting everyone know that the company has no further plans to eliminate positions. Assure your team members that with the redundancy eliminated, the organization will become stronger.
Allow your staff adequate time to express their thoughts, vent, and grieve before dividing the former-employee’s responsibilities amongst the team.
When an employee is laid off because of performance problems
It’s rare for an employee’s performance problems to go unnoticed by the rest of the staff. Most of us notice when a fellow staff member is disengaged, habitually late, or routinely fails to deliver projects on time. As a result, terminations due to performance problems are rarely a surprise. In these cases, it is usually sufficient to make a generic statement to your team members informing that the employee is no longer with the company. As Falcone suggests, “Just keep it short, simple, and respectful.”
Try something like, “Although we appreciate his efforts over the last two years, Employee-X is no longer with the company effective yesterday. We will discuss backfilling his position and temporarily reassign some of his responsibilities to keep things moving while we look for a new employee. Out of respect for Employee-X, please keep this news to yourself. While we’re sad that he is no longer here, we wish him well in his future endeavors. If you have any questions, please see me privately.”
When an employee is laid off due to egregious misconduct
Most of us are fascinated by controversy in the workplace—especially when it relates to misconduct like harassment, bullying, discrimination, violence, gross insubordination, theft, fraud, embezzlement, and so on. When employees are suddenly let go for these reasons, it can be shocking—and because people do not know all the specifics, they are often more inclined to make assumptions.
In cases like this, your announcement should focus more on instructions and guidelines, not the legalities or gritty details of what happened. You might say something like this:
"Everyone, I called this meeting to let you know that X-employee is no longer with the company. Although I am not legally allowed to offer specific details, I can assure you that we treated X-employee with respect, listened to her side of the story, and took the appropriate action based on our findings. Out of respect for the company and for your former colleague, please do not gossip or make assumptions about her.”