Dealing with Layoffs? How to Support Employees through the Process

11 Jul ‘22
5min
Annemarie Andre
Reviewed by psychologist Marina Pacini
Two cartoon figures in the office, one is disappointed
A wave of layoffs at tech companies and startups has now made its way to Europe. In these times of inflation, recession and the war in Ukraine, investors are hesitant to keep offering financial support. For companies, that often means biding their time, cutting costs, and letting go of employees. 

 

In this article, you’ll learn how you as a manager can navigate the difficult process of laying off employees and the best ways to support the employees that you have to let go.

 

Why is mental health support so important when laying people off?

 

 

Layoffs have a huge impact on employees. During the Great Depression, symptoms of depression rose by 3.4% in Europe following a wave of job losses in the workplace. These figures were even higher when company closures were unexpected.

 

As well as their income, laid off employees also lose their way of structuring their time, their sense of purpose, certain social connections, their status, and the activities that keep them busy during the day.

 

According to academic Marie Jahoda, these are the five latent functions of employment, as once tested on a representative sample of the German population. 

 

While you as manager might have known for some time that layoffs were inevitable, employees often feel that the ground has been ripped out from under their feet when the announcement is made. That’s why it’s really important to prepare for these conversations and to be particularly empathetic about the feelings your team members are struggling with.

 

How you handle a difficult situation like this may very well impact the rest of your working life. Ultimately, there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter these former employees at other companies or that they know talent that you’d like to recruit to your team at some point in the future.

 

These five tips from psychologist Marina Pacini will help you to support employees to the best of your abilities both during and after the layoff process:

 

1. Be prepared

 

Even if there isn’t always a lot of time to communicate when you’re laying people off, you should always prepare thoroughly for the conversation and maintain certain standards. “During the announcement, feelings will get hurt and employees will experience negative emotions, like uncertainty,” says psychologist Marina.

 

You also can’t expect managers to be able to communicate such life-changing news without having an emotional response to it – even if they aren’t personally affected by the decision.

 

That said, there are a few things that you as a manager need to be aware of when making an announcement about layoffs. “Express your message clearly and share how you’re feeling with the members of your team,” recommends Marina.

 

“You can also ask the team members how they’re doing, what questions and concerns they still have, and most importantly give them time to process this news.” The important thing is the way you convey this news. “Always go for a calm and empathetic tone,” recommends Marina.

 

2. Communicate openly and transparently

 

It’s best to have difficult conversations like this in person and not via video call. Ideally, you should book a meeting room, giving the employee time to pause and reflect on the decision for a while afterwards.

 

“It’s best if the manager includes a short pause, allowing the team member to express their own opinion,” says Marina. 

 

For example, the managers can simply leave the room and come back a little while later. “Ask the employee straight out if they’d like to have a moment in private before continuing with the conversation.

 

Pose questions like: How can I help? How are you doing?” This can help to calm and comfort the team member.

 

3. Remain objective and rebuild trust

 

As soon as you’ve let the affected employees know, you should communicate the decision to the entire team. As a manager, you need to communicate this decision objectively with a calm and empathetic tone.

 

“Explaining it as a business decision might make employees think that you haven’t considered the personal implications,” says Marina.

 

Following the layoffs, colleagues of the affected employees will then feel insecure and keep wondering if the same thing is going to happen to them. Address these fears directly by explicitly communicating that you want restore a safe atmosphere within the team.

 

“Uncertainty is one of the main causes of poor trust and reduced motivation,” says psychologist Marina, explaining further: “You can hold weekly and monthly team meetings or one-on-one meetings to discuss personal feelings or insecurities.”

 

Employees remaining with the company will also feel more secure if they’re always kept in the loop, in terms of employee decisions or new policies.

 

4. Offer support

 

A layoff isn’t a single event, it’s a lengthy process. Following the initial conversation, the employee’s problems are only just beginning.

 

They need to reevaluate, start filling in application forms, and get organized. Depending on how friendly the atmosphere is within your company, you as a manager can also make a significant difference after the layoff. 

 

How to support employees after laying them off: 

 

  • Write them a personal email (or WhatsApp message) empathetically explaining that you’re there for them.
  • Offer to keep an eye out for opportunities in your network and share their resume with relevant contacts.
  • Offer to write positive endorsements for their LinkedIn profile or ask the employee which aspects they’d like you to focus on in your letter of recommendation.

 

5. Learn to manage your own feelings of guilt

 

Whether it’s the first time in your career that you’ve had to lay someone off or you just had a really good relationship with this particular team member: Laying somebody off is not an easy thing.

 

Especially in cases like this, you might find yourself feeling guilty as a manager – because the layoff often has very little to do with the employee’s job performance.

 

“Remember that it wasn’t a personal decision and that layoffs are sometimes unavoidable,” says Marina. “Objectivity can help you to rationalize feelings of guilt during the layoff process.” If these feelings of guilt persist, you can also speak to somebody you know or a psychologist about it.

 

There are always feelings involved where layoffs are concerned. Nobody is expecting you to get through this without having some kind of emotional response. Schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists and speak to them about how you can navigate challenging situations as a manager.