What Global Mobility Specialists Need to Do When Layoffs Have Been Normalized

Have companies normalized layoffs based on their method of announcing it: email? The practice is downright cold, if seemingly efficient. Some HR managers and global mobility specialists trace it to the COVID-19 lockdowns, when employers had no choice but to announce terminations in a conference call to their homebound workforce.

Yet, even when the restrictions were lifted, some corporate heads notoriously resorted to the practice, apparently to avoid confrontations with their distressed, angry, and perhaps panicking newly terminated employees.

It is convenient to fire employees digitally or virtually, because the decision-maker or their HR manager communicating the termination does not have to face them in person. After all, how long can one remain detached, clinical, and professional in delivering the bad news to a loyal, hardworking employee who has a family to support? Or one who may have a hard time finding an alternative job in an economic recession? 

After the initial shock, other intense emotions will emerge from the unfortunate employee—and the decision-maker and their right hand would rather not face them.

While termination by conference call is here to say, some HR leaders who have worked with the people they are about to lay off have advocated a more sensitive, compassionate kind of virtual termination. They are the first to say that a relationship with an employee goes beyond the transactional

Prior to remote work, many offices treated their most productive employees with the longest tenure as family—and their families are in turn invited to special corporate events like Christmas parties or summer outings. Relationships have been built over the years, if not the decades. The relationship on both sides deserves more than just a cold, dismissive email.

Here is what those HR leaders are suggesting to ease the pain and anxiety, to give the struggling ex-employee a means to find courage and hope, and retain a relationship that they might renew in the future.

Act with compassion and grace. Have the meeting face-to-face and one-on-one in person. Treat them like human beings and not a number that you have to eject from the payroll. Don’t beat around the bush or use small talk as a cushion, but state quietly the reasons for the layoff. Then allow them to process what they heard from you. 

Let them ask those uncomfortable questions that you want to hear like turnovers, deadlines, cut-offs, and last payments. If your company can, lead them to a platform where they can reintegrate into the job market, like headhunters and your own job portals. Let them know that they can contact you in the next few days as they make the transition.

Provide support to the laid-off employees. Great Place to Work enumerates them in a wide range of packages and services, such as a decent amount of time to process the information, collect their stuff to bring home, and say goodbye to their friends. Second, a severance package that has health benefits for the ex-employee can also tide them over in a tough situation. 

Outplacement services and resume preparation can help them knock on other job doors. Finally, the ex-employees’ chances of getting rehired can be boosted by your verbal or (preferably) recommendation or email/letter of reference to their next recruiter.

Be honest enough to admit mistakes. This goes specifically for the CEOs and other leaders who made the decisions that led to the layoffs. During the recent job cuts in one tech company, one founder assumed responsibility for the termination of about 11,000 employees. He promised that management would correct their course, study their mistakes, and see to it that this does not happen again.

This owning up is important because it gives the ex-employees a bigger perspective of what had happened to them. It also absolves them of the guilt they might feel because their performance was not the one at fault. This resolution to do things better from top management will also send a message to the remaining employees that they can look forward to improvement.

Firing an employee or arranging for an exit is never easy. But it can be done in a compassionate, sensitive way that leaves them with dignity.

Arrange an empathetic exit for employees, especially if the termination is sudden and painful. Show compassion for those who were laid off for reasons beyond their performance, such as a significant drop in profit. Show great sensitivity to their unexpected job loss.