Layoffs Require Empathy, So Stop Being a Bad Leader During Hard Times

Layoffs Require Empathy, So Stop Being a Bad Leader During Hard Times

By Audrey McGuckin, CEO, WOTW - 

More than 70,000 U.S. employees have been laid off in the last year according to MSNBC. In my line of business working with c-suite executives, I am spending more and more time helping leaders develop layoff strategies. It’s not fun work for anyone involved.

For those making these types of decisions, it’s a difficult task. But what I see is that the leaders who are navigating these trying times well are the leaders who are conducting layoffs with empathy. They are the leaders who care. In the long run this strategy of empathy is going to pay off for their organizations and their career. 

A recent Harvard Business Review article said it beautifully, “During challenging times, the most effective leadership communications are ones that deliver attention, acknowledge distress, demonstrate care…” 

In other words, those with the most effective leadership strategies deliver hard news with empathy. Why? Because it’s humane, it keeps your workforce motivated, it can strengthen your brand, and ultimately it’s the right thing to do. 

The best leaders are getting this right and I applaud all of you. I see leaders promoting previous employees as good job candidates. Turning to LinkedIn and other avenues to help their previous employees find new jobs. After all, 9 times out of 10 the employee did nothing wrong, it was just time for the company to trim its workforce and save money during challenging financial times. 

This is the RIGHT way to conduct layoffs. This approach keeps employees motivated. It strengthens brands. And it builds trust. 

Now let’s look at the flip side. We see the news on companies who get it all wrong (yes, tech industry I see you). Laying off employees at the start of a Zoom call without any notice. Laying off employees without providing any support. Literally not caring for the workers who no longer have a job. Showing ZERO empathy.

This strategy has been proven to impact the workforce. It demotivates employees and creates a fissure in the trust of the company’s leadership. In the long term, it has the potential to have a much greater impact on the company’s bottom line than being profitable.

So, if you are planning layoffs, do it the right way. Lead with empathy. Communicate with your team effectively. Acknowledge feelings of sadness, frustration, and anxiety. Demonstrate a commitment to being a responsible leader who cares for your team. Be transparent about bad news and understand that your team might need support in processing your message. And for god’s sake, do not fire ANYONE at the start of a company-wide Zoom call by locking them out. 

Because in the long run, a lack of empathy is only going to hurt your bottom line. It’s going to hurt the brand you’ve worked so hard to build. It’s going to create distrust. And all of this can be avoided with empathy. 

If you need help developing a strategy for layoffs or if you need guidance on empathetic leadership, schedule a meeting with our expert team. 

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