Layoffs, furloughing…ever since the pandemic began it’s almost as though we hear more about these topics than we do about those becoming newly employed. Many of you have probably heard of the layoffs surrounding the Better.com CEO. In short, he laid off 900 employees via a Zoom call with a very uncaring demeanor. You’re probably thinking 900 – is that a typo? I hate to say it, but it sure isn’t. Their company executives have even stepped down in the wake of the fallout. Not to say it isn’t hard being the person delivering this kind of news, but there is always a way to do it with kindness. Organizational leaders must help employees feel more dignified within the company as these harsh realities occur.
It’s all about perspective. Imagine being one of those 900 employees. How would things feel from their point of view? Cold, harsh, and out of nowhere. There’s no getting away from the pain that layoffs bring about. As a result, these decisions hurt the employee directly, the teams they’re a part of and even management. It’s difficult to feel “good” about being laid off, but organizational leaders play a key role in upholding their organization’s reputation upon employee departure.
A Dignified Response
Many employees struggle with layoffs out of fear of the unknown. How will they pay their bills or carry insurance? Take care of their children or rely on their spouse? I spoke about my personal story of layoff earlier this year, and had my organization not shown compassion throughout that transition, I would have felt stuck and full of doubt. It affected all of us in some way, not just me. But unlike Better, my workplace made sure I walked out the door with my dignity intact.
If an organization does not support employees, they are left on their own to deal with these thoughts. Truthfully, that’s unfair. It was not their fault the organization was dealt the hand it did, and they did not ask to be let go. It’s a tough pill to swallow knowing you’re someone who shows up to work on time every day, puts your best foot forward, and you still didn’t make the cut. Layoffs can bring about a roller coaster of emotions, and as an organizational leader, delivering the news with transparency and kindness will alleviate the difficulties surrounding these changes.
Aside from my own story, I don’t often hear employees speaking highly of their experience of being furloughed or laid off. Though I wouldn’t expect anyone to go shouting that kind of life-changing news from the rooftops, there is still a lot to be said about feeling dignified when leaving an organization that cares about your well-being through the process. Servant leadership plays a huge role in changing that stigma, and those will be the leaders who truly make an impact.
Developing policies for sudden layoffs and furloughing is a topic that merits more attention. The pandemic was a wake-up call to all of us, and some organizations certainly handled it better than others. Leaders who demonstrate open communication and listen to employees’ questions and concerns allow employees to provide feedback. And just because they ask questions doesn’t mean you’ll have all the answers. But following up with everyone individually when those answers become available to you will go a long way. Employee feedback can set the pace and provide an open eye on improving internal structure and policies of what can be done better if this situation arises again.
We all want to leave a job knowing we’ve done all we could do and walk out the door with our heads held high. A commonality in humans is that we want to be appreciated and heard. Patience, clarity, and understanding can go a long way in changing a negative perspective into a dignified one.