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How To Communicate Layoffs Without Landing in the Headlines

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According to layoffs.fyi, which tracks terminations in real time, 387+ startups have laid off over 64,000 employees in 2022. Major players like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix and Google are also cutting jobs across the board. As economic uncertainty and fears of recession surmount, more layoffs are coming across industries.

You don’t land in headlines for handling layoffs well. From Better.com to Tesla to Klarna, it’s always the layoff horror stories that catch media attention. Layoffs flip the typical PR approach on its head, and the goal becomes to keep companies OUT of the spotlight.

Layoffs are emotional, which is to be expected when someone’s livelihood is on the line. While you can’t avoid the emotions or response that may come from a reduction in force, you can do your best to create a communication plan that’s thoughtful and streamlined. Here are a few things to consider:

 

Communicate Business Challenges BEFORE Large-scale Layoffs

I’ll say something CEOs might not want to hear: If your team is shocked by layoffs, you did something wrong. While layoffs may always be somewhat of a surprise, it shouldn’t come as a massive shock to your team that this business decision had to be made.

Employees value honesty. You should be having transparent discussions quarterly about the progress of your business and the current state of finances with your team. You don’t have to share every single detail, but your team is working hard for the company to succeed and should be there to celebrate in success and push through the challenges. Additionally, you should have already made other cost-cutting decisions before resorting to mass layoffs. Letting staff go should always be a last resort. The more your team is shocked, the more likely they are to run to the press.

 

Prepare External Communication Materials

With many audiences to consider, preparing communication materials that are concise and empathic is no easy task. Tap into your communications team to craft audience-specific messaging while your HR team handles the internal communication plan. For both internal and external materials, assume nothing is private and could be shared with reporters. You’ll need messaging for board members, investors, press, social media channels and customers.

  • Your investors and board members should be alerted ahead of time and likely will be involved in the decision. This communication should be transparent and communicate your company road map in a way that instills confidence.

  • A customer email should be drafted but only used if the layoffs directly impact the customer or if the news becomes widespread. Prepare talking points for customer-facing teams addressing top questions that could arise that are unique to your business.

  • A draft press statement should be prepared in the event media catches wind of your layoffs. The statement should come directly from the CEO and not from an HR leader or other leader within the organization. It should be concise, detail a reason for the decision and express gratitude for the contribution of staff members who are departing. Avoid sugarcoating the news, saying how well your business is doing or sharing a three-page statement. This may come across as defensive and open you up to further criticism.

  • If you’re on LinkedIn, I bet you’ve seen posts about layoffs filling your feed. Social media – LinkedIn and Glassdoor in particular – will be a top place for staff and departing team members to share their thoughts. On corporate social channels, pause all posts for the days following, especially any with a joyful tone. Draft sample social media posts for the company channels, CEO and HR leaders to reference. A message of honesty and support from company leaders can go a long way to improve morale. Keep a close eye on social media conversations and err on the side of offering support. Know that criticism is likely and common and encourage leaders not to go on the defense.

Notify Impacted Staff with Compassion (and Clarity)

Don’t be that CEO who jumps on a Zoom call or sends a mass email to let go 20% of your workforce. Be thoughtful about how to share the news with those impacted and do so at the same time or close together, if possible. In person is always best, but the hybrid workforce makes that a challenge. If it can’t be in person, an individual call is ideal to communicate empathy. “Why?” will be a top question, so don’t shy away from sharing a short reasoning on why this decision had to be made. Keep it concise, clear and detail the severance package and all benefits available to them. Once completed, offer an outlet for those impacted to get support – financially, emotionally and on their next job hunt.

 

Don’t Leave Remaining Employees Wondering

Don’t forget about the many team members who are still there after layoffs. They’ll be watching closely how you handle and communicate this decision. They’ll also be worried about their own job security. Don’t leave them wondering. After all parties impacted are in the know, host a company call to share why this decision had to be made and what is being done to stabilize the business. Offer multiple outlets for team members to ask questions and share feedback, such as an anonymous form or HR office hours. Mass layoffs also impact your current employees, as they will have to majorly adapt and potentially handle two jobs instead of one for a while. Don’t make it a one-and-done conversation – check in during the weeks and even months following to see how employees are doing.

 

Communicating layoffs is never a time for celebration and comes with a lot of challenges. As PR teams and business leaders put together a communications plan, remember to keep your humanity front and center. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

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