Telling a team member they no longer have a place at your company is always difficult. But perhaps the most difficult is when you have to lay off people who have done nothing wrong.
In our last article, we looked at how to handle firing a really nice person. But what about when you’re faced with a termination that doesn’t have a personal cause? How do you handle parting ways when it’s the result of layoffs?
We have dealt with this at Vanderbloemen as we work with clients who have large teams. We even see it at Christian organizations. Just because a team is faith-based doesn’t mean it isn’t a business that faces challenges.
Every year across the United States, several thousand churches close their doors, according to research from Thom Rainer. Five years ago, when Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington closed its doors, our COO Sutton Turner was serving as their Executive Pastor (the church equivalent to a COO). It was one of the more public in modern history because it was widely reported across social media, websites, and blogs. Sutton says one of the greatest lessons he learned while at Mars Hill was to lead layoffs with grace, and not just as a professional.
Here’s some insight from Sutton and our experience as leaders about how to gracefully handle terminations:
1. Prepare for the difference between a layoff and a termination.
A layoff, unlike a termination, will come as a shock to the staff member. Even though you might have been watching the financial numbers closely as the team leader, most staff members will not know the financial situation to that detail. So be prepared for their shock and emotional upset.
2. Meet with the person who is being laid off with another professional if possible.
Open the meeting with something pleasant, but don’t beat around the bush. Get right to it: “I am very sorry, but we are going to have to lay you off.” It won’t take away the awkwardness or the painfulness of the meeting, but it will show your employee that they are valuable enough as an employee to have your face to face time with a decision that you did not take lightly and one that will significantly impact them.
3. As a leader and manager, take some responsibility for the layoff.
The reality is, as their manager, you were the person who hired the employee. But now, situations have changed financially or strategically. If you were too aggressive on growth plans that did not pan out, you need to own that. Make sure your responsibility in the layoff is communicated clearly so your employee does not internalize guilt or resentment later. Those are emotions that are unhealthy for everyone involved and can impact the way others see your business.
4. If it is a layoff, make sure you go through as much detail as you can to explain the reason for the layoff.
Also, assure the employee that their position will not be refilled because of the current circumstances. That will help take any of the “personal” factor down a notch.
5. When it’s a layoff, as a leader, you have a requirement to try to assist the person being laid off in finding another job.
Do what you can to help the employee in the aftermath of this situation. Write a reference letter, use your contacts to get them an interview and be available when future employers call for a recommendation or reference. Many people these days do not know how to write a good, effective resume. So, give the former employee an example of a good resume. Offer to help them edit it before they send it out.
6. Care for your remaining staff well.
Existing staff will feel shame and guilt that they still have a position when their friends and co-workers don’t. Still others may fear that their position is also in jeopardy. Have a staff meeting after the individual layoff meetings for the staff to process the situation.
Layoffs happen, even in the nicest of situations. And they’re never fun. The easiest way to avoid dealing with them is to just send a memo, or to hire a company to manage them. But I’m learning that the more excellent way, and the one that both honors people and helps your team in the long run is choosing to lead those layoffs with grace. Follow these steps, and I believe you’ll be equipped to handle a layoff in a way that former employees feel honored, and speak well of you and your team in the future.