How to Communicate During a Layoff

Sep 26, 2022 Beth Monaghan

Are layoffs on the horizon? In our industry, we know better than anyone that when messages get amplified, they have a greater chance of becoming real. If everyone says there’s going to be a recession, there probably will be. 

No layoff goes “well,” but the impact can be gentler with a humane and responsive communications strategy. In any layoff, the most important audience is your employees. What happens internally will be reflected externally, so your internal messaging and timeline should be the first priority. 

Following are the steps I recommend:

#1: Let your values guide you

Values mean nothing to an organization if you don’t stick by them when times are hard. 

#2: Get internal alignment

HR and communications leaders need to be in lockstep on the messaging and the timeline. 

#3: Be human

How a layoff goes down matters. The people leaving are human beings, and getting let go is a trauma no matter how nicely you say it. They will take it personally, so decide who should speak to each person individually and craft your talking points with humanity and kindness. (And sure, the lawyers will have a say, so follow their guidance, but use your own intuition in the moment.)

#4: Know your why

The market conditions. The decisions that led you here. The plan for moving forward. The prospects for your organization long-term. Layoffs create widespread fear about job security, which can wreak havoc on your culture. Assurances are important.

#5: Try not to do this twice

A second round spreads more fear and uncertainty. You want to make the right cut on the first call — and be done.

#6: Communicate efficiently and quickly

Once the first person is let go, the word will be out. The timing of these conversations should not be spread out. You will need to communicate with the rest of the organization in short order.

#7: Plan for leaks

What you say and write internally could be shared externally. Know this going into it, and craft your communications accordingly. In fact, you should probably be ready for a disgruntled employee to live-tweet a company meeting.

#8: Have a public statement ready

Do you need to announce the layoffs publicly? No. But you do need to be ready to issue a statement. During the early days of a recession, lay-off news is big, so if you’re in the early rounds it will be more newsworthy. Regardless, your external statement should be short and with the key points: here’s what happened and why. Then ask yourself, did my statement ask any more questions than are already out there? If the answer is yes, your statement needs work. 

#9: Pause celebratory posts

Maybe you just got named a best place to work a few weeks ago and you want to announce it now. It’s not a good look after cutting your team. Just like posts about revenue growth following a layoff land, well, poorly. Take a look at your content calendar and make the necessary adjustments.

#10: Pull down old hiring posts

Do you have any still floating around that you forgot to pull down? Get them down before you announce layoffs. 

Finally, fear seeks action. The hard work of renewing a sense of camaraderie and rebuilding team culture starts immediately after a layoff. Share your vision and plan for the future. How can you all pull together to help ride out this phase and meet the adjusted business goals? Offering hope and near-constant communication is critical to rebuilding your culture and getting your organization back on track. 

Beth Monaghan

Since the early days working around her kitchen table, Beth has grown Inkhouse into one of the top independent PR agencies in the country. She’s been named a Top Woman in PR by PR News, a Top 25 Innovator by PRovoke, and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth designed Inkhouse’s signature Storytelling Workshop to mirror the literary hero’s journey and to unearth the emotional connections that bind an audience to a brand or idea. She also uses narratives to build Inkhouse’s culture, most recently through two books of employee essays, “Hindsight 2020” and “Aren’t We Lucky?”

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