The coronavirus has triggered unprecedented layoffs around the globe.

Layoffs during COVID-19On the week of April 4th, 2020, unemployment claims in the US reached 6.6 million. And as the economic ramifications of the global shutdown echo for the rest of the year, organizations will continue to pare down their employees to fit their budgetary needs.

You might have questions like, “should I put my employees on furlough?” or “is it better to have employees go on unemployment or take a pay cut?” (if you’re considering this, my friend Katie Bischoff has some great insight). Whatever the answer is your organization, many of you will need to fire some or all of your workforce. Here’s how to do it with compassion.

How to Approach Layoffs

Laying off your employees is never easy. But in a time of economic distress, layoffs can come in many different forms. Some companies will make sweeping, bold decisions from the beginning; others will slowly let people go a small percentage at a time. No matter how your organization decides to cope with the damaged economy, there is a right and wrong way to lay people off. 

I shared my thoughts on how to fire employees back in 2013, but I think now is an especially good time to revisit the topic of layoffs. 

Plan Your Layoffs Early in The Week

All your employees are people just like you and me. They have lives and bills and needs. While it might seem convenient for you to wait until Friday afternoon to share the bad news, you should do it as early in the week as possible. When you let someone go on a Friday, they are unable to take action over the weekend and left to stew over their new situation. Notifying them earlier in the week gives them time to access resources like unemployment, job search networks, or legal assistance.

Be Clear About What is Happening and Why

Even when employees have a hunch there might be layoffs, it’s difficult to hear that they’re losing their job. Be clear about the dismissal, and the expectations for the rest of the day as they make their exit. Keep it brief, but offer to answer any questions they might have. Finally, whatever you say to the employee, put in writing for their future reference. Because no matter what you say, your employee will only hear three words — “you are fired.”

Consult with Leadership About What to Say

Firing is not the time to ad-lib on your own. Consult with HR or even your company’s legal counsel before preparing to let someone go. Many states have disclosure requirements about what is appropriate to disclose to an employee about why they are being laid off. Going off-script could lead to lawsuits, miscommunication, and confusion.

Be Compassionate

Rarely do we want to terminate an employee/employer relationship, but in times of economic distress, it becomes a necessity. It’s likely that although an employee knows that layoffs will happen, they do not expect it to happen to them. Be kind, offer resources, and give them time to process. 

Plan an Appropriate Exit Strategy

Be prepared to tell the individual how they will be leaving the office. If possible, invite them to take a long lunch, and return at a scheduled time to collect their things. In some organizations, the individual may need to leave immediately, in which case, try to plan the conversation to happen close to lunchtime when they can make a dignified exit without onlookers. If the individual works with sensitive information, coordinate with your IT department ahead of time to restrict access as needed. 

When planned correctly, you can provide the best possible outcome for everyone, given the situation. Plan your conversation ahead of time, be brief and empathetic when delivering the news, put everything in writing, have an exit strategy, and, most importantly, be compassionate.