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Laying people off is hard. But it’s a far sight harder for the people getting impacted. So for the love of all that is holy, be a good human and do it face-to-face, even if that means over video.

This morning I read an article in Inc. Magazine about Shopify notifying people via email. SMH.

Years ago, I made the decision to eliminate some roles on my team to open up the budget for different roles that we needed. I want to say it was 6-7 people in total, located around the country.

I planned to do it by phone call. My very wise manager and mentor said “No, we do right by them. We go and meet them in person and notify them face-to-face.” Video calls weren’t a thing back then.

And we did. I and a few other leaders on the HR team (because I couldn’t get everywhere in a day) flew around the country over a period of a day to notify people in person.

Did they probably know it was coming when we were suddenly flying into town? I’m sure.

Was it hard to have those conversations face-to-face? Oh yeah. I indulged in some heavy emotional eating after the last one.

Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely.

Since that time, I’ve had to handle other layoffs. My mentor’s words always come back to me.

We’re hearing more about layoffs these days, and like Shopify, some will be done in terrible ways. So I want to share my guiding principles for notifications:

  • It’s hard to be the one doing the notification. Allow yourself space to process that. Be gentle with yourself. Just always remember it’s harder on them.
  • They know something is up, so don’t blather on about inconsequential shit to try to make it more comfortable. You’re just trying to make yourself feel better. Get to the point.
  • You’ll need to tow the company line of why this is happening – blah blah blah. But please ignore misguided HR talking points to avoid saying “I’m sorry.” Express empathy. It’s ok to say “I’m sorry this is happening to you. I’m sure this is really hard to hear.”
  • Have the conversation face-to-face if possible. It doesn’t mean you need to fly around the country, although in-person is best. Second best is video. Third is a phone call. There are no other good options. It doesn’t matter if it’s uncomfortable for you to see their reaction. Suck it up, buttercup.
  • Expect and allow both in-the-moment and delayed reactions. Some people will cry on the spot. Let them. Some people will call you later and express anger. Let them. It’s all part of the process they need to go through. Again, it’s not about you.
  • If it ever gets easy to lay people off, you need an empathy reset. And probably need to walk away from work for a bit.
Layoffs. If you have to do it, do it right. |Cynthia Farrell | 110 West Group

Layoffs suck. Be good humans. Do them right.

What are your layoff stories, both good and bad? Who has done it well, and who needs an empathy reset?

PS: Can we kill the euphemism, “Reduction in Force / RIF,” which we only use to make ourselves feel better?


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