What do you say when you are laying off one of your subordinates? How do you keep morale alive for the remaining staff and allay their fears about job security? Equally important, how do you protect the organization from legal exposure in terms of the documents we prepare and the words we say as we go through the layoff process? Do you feel a cringe just reading these questions? Addressing staff reductions is definitely a cringe moment conversation that needs to be handles with care.  

This article gives some general guidance I provide to clients when it comes preparing for a reduction in force (RIF). 

Pre-Notification Meeting Logistics Preparation 

Understand that informing a person of a job loss is a very difficult and stressful task – a cringe moment conversation. A successful outcome requires preparation and good judgment. Become thoroughly familiar with the complete RIF process.  

Make arrangements to meet with the employee (location, date, time – and advise the employee of the meeting.) Arrange for another manager to be with you during the meeting – generally this is a Human Resources employee. Before the meeting, discuss with Human Resources any possible problems or concerns you feel could occur during your meeting. Brainstorm and anticipate any questions you could be asked by the employee during the meeting.  

Remember, the employee release process can be very stressful and emotional for all parties. The more preparation, the better chance of having a smooth separation. Even if you suspect the meeting will go as well as expected, it’s a good idea to arrange for security and IT support in case an issue arises.  

Preparing to Remain in Control 

As the manager (or notifier) you must be calm and in control at all times. Upon being told of a job loss, people may react in very different ways – emotions can vary widely. It is difficult to predict how an individual will react, but you should always anticipate some level of emotion. Most reactions displayed are normal, such as surprise, feeling hurt, crying and disappointment. Other reactions can be more aggressive, such as statements that the employee feels betrayed, wronged or even discriminated against. 

You as a manager may be challenged by some employee responses during a reduction in force. As best you can, be patient, acknowledge a person’s feelings, be understanding – and above all, remain in control. Do not apologize for the layoff. Do not allow yourself to become argumentative or confrontational. IF the notification meeting becomes confrontational, end the meeting at once and ask the employee to leave. Notify the employee that the Human Resources Department will follow up with the affected employee. 

Preparing for the Reaction 

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of practicing and rehearsing the message you will deliver. You may need to seek appropriate coaching and consultation with the appropriate support. In all situations, be prepared for “push backs” and the emotional responses. The chart below illustrates the range of emotion which may occur during these cringe moment conversations.  

Reduction In Force

Another factor to consider is your remaining staff. Assess the impact of losing the employee on co-workers.  

The Notification Meeting 

The primary purpose of the notification meeting is twofold: 1) to inform the employee that his/her position has been eliminated and the date of the separation and 2) to provide information about the transition package the organization is providing the departing employee. 

Your Role is the Notifier – Not the Justifier 

Once again, coordinate with another manager to be present during the meeting, typically a Human Resources employee. Do not downplay the importance of a private, uninterrupted meeting space. It is better to plan a buffer at the end of the meeting than to have to rush the process.  

When the meeting starts, don’t procrastinate with small talk. Get directly to the point, announce the action calmly, stick with your script, control the meeting, and keep the employee focused. Do not make any comments, even if well intended, that could compromise the decision; stay away from discussions that could confuse the primary message. As a reminder: the notification meeting is not about the employee’s performance or personal issues. Be direct, firm and certain so the employee knows the decision is final, while also holding sensitivity to the employee’s situation. 

I draw a hard line on a few main points of the meeting. First: don’t blame others for the actions being taken. Second: don’t become defensive, argumentative or confrontational – your role is not to justify the decision that has been made. Finally: listen and document anything that could lead to a potential problem, then advise Human Resources immediately following the notification meeting. A calm and caring demeanor will convey empathy to the employee. 

As you wrap up the meeting, tie up the loose ends. Advise the employee that their personal effects will be packed that day by you (or the appropriate HR employee) and delivered by courier to their home address within 24 hours. Make sure to collect, or make arrangements to collect, all the organization’s property. A departing employee may ask for time to say “goodbye.” The best business practice is to decline this request since it is disruptive to the business operations. While being sensitive to the departing employee, you need to minimize disruption in the workplace. The departing employee often feels embarrassed.   

 Take Time to Prepare 

Chances are that reduction in force conversations are your least favorite of all professional conversations. These types of conversations are cringe moments many people avoid and delay at all costs. There is a better way – the way of preparation! I hope you found this guidance helpful. In my next article, I will outline some scripts for these conversations, giving you more ease with the process.  

Click Here to learn more about how I can support your organization to deal with conflict and challenging conversations