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The Impact and Humanity of Layoffs


There is a constant buzz of worry and concern among the workforce right now. As the news of layoffs and hiring freezes across multiple industries continue, it’s weighing heavy on employees, employment professionals, and business owners alike and creating massive ripple effects downstream.

Many of the industries that fared well during the COVID-19 pandemic and responded with big, fast employment growth are now being faced with the inevitable challenge of inflation, a rapidly changing economic environment, and bracing for financial impact.

Industries like tech are responding by laying off employees by the thousands and tightening their belts when it comes to outsourced services. This means there are both impacts for the companies having to make layoff and budgeting decisions, and also for the companies that are being cut from the outsourcing budget.

For employers and employees alike, it likely feels a little too soon to be experiencing this kind of disruption to the labor market again and while companies are bracing for financial impact, employees are bracing themselves for the possibility of a layoff. There’s a whole lot of humanity in between those lines.

While businesses have to make business decisions, that doesn’t mean that laying off employees is simply a business transaction. On the other side of those business decisions are thinking, feeling, emoting human beings who are deserving of respect and compassion.

LinkedIn is riddled with stories from professionals who have recently been laid off and experienced things like suddenly being cut off from the Slack channels they engage in on a daily basis, or being delivered the news by email from a supervisor who had reassured them of their job security, finding themselves locked out of work accounts mid-project, or receiving an invite to a one-way Zoom call of doom. While having a “reduction in workforce” is never easy for anyone, having emotionally intelligent, compassionate conversations can go a long way in providing understanding for both parties.

Here are some ways to make those conversations possible:


If your company or organization has already established a high-performing culture of communication, compassion, care, and transparency and has a workplace designed with employee well-being as a priority, then that is what will be expected by employees during a layoff conversation. In theory, that kind of culture would equip employment professionals with the ability to have emotionally intelligent conversations about layoffs.


If employees in your industry are already bracing themselves for the potential of a layoff and reading LinkedIn horror stories about bad layoff experiences, conversations are key. Ensuring that a conversation is had is a key opportunity for employers to communicate the reasons for a layoff, and for employees to have closure so they can move forward with confidence.


If possible and permitted, providing employees with some context about the business decisions of the layoff can help open up the door for understanding and provide some peace of mind to employees fearing that they made be the cause. Employees may be feeling fear that the layoff has to do with their performance or commitment to their work, and reassurance can go a long way in setting up a psychologically safe conversation.


While the decision for a layoff is not made based on emotion, the impact of a layoff is highly emotional. Intentionally make room for emotions, tears, grief, confusion, questions, and appropriate expression. Be open to hearing expressions of emotion and leave space to listen. In addition, mental well-being can be of concern for an employee receiving this news, so be prepared to provide resources and guidance for mental health support during this process.


Speaking of support, be sure to include communication about the support you’ll continue to offer during the layoff process. Will you be providing COBRA insurance coverage? Is severance being provided and what do employees need to know about that process? Will you be providing references or recommendations to assist in their job search?

Designing Work for Well-Being

Above all, a workplace designed around amplifying employee well-being is the best way to cover all of these bases during both good times and bad. Well-being-focused workplaces encourage health, meaning, safety, connection, achievement, growth, and resiliency—things that are essential for any circumstances that arise during the employment lifecycle.

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