It seems like every day, another company is announcing mass layoffs. Just this past week, companies such as Adobe, Plaid and Buzzfeed conducted layoffs, with some cutting up to 12% of their workforce.
The impact of layoffs, especially around the holiday season, can hit workers hard. Although there’s no way to mitigate the effects of a layoff, there are ways to conduct it in a compassionate and empathetic manner. A robotic and detached “Lazy Layoff” can cause unnecessary turmoil for the laid-off employee and create mistrust among the employees that stay.
What is a Lazy Layoff?
Although the goal of a layoff conversation should always focus on delivering the news compassionately, offering support and answering any and all questions about logistics and next steps, sometimes managers – and even HR – can miss the mark in a Lazy Layoff.
“A lazy layoff is putting more thought and ‘people power’ behind the spreadsheets and modeling of the layoff, than the communication and support for managers delivering the message and employees receiving it,” explains Ashley Herd, Founder and CEO of Manager Method.
Take, for example, a recent layoff conversation that went viral on TikTok. The manager in the now-deleted video, after informing the employee that their job was no longer critical and thanking the employee for her work at the company, immediately dropped off the call and handed it over to HR.
“It is uncomfortable delivering a hard message, so many leaders want others to have the conversation, or if they have to have it, get off the call as quickly as possible,” says Herd. “They are often thinking of their discomfort, rather than think of how sudden and harsh it can feel to employees affected.”
Lazy Layoffs can come across as cold-hearted and cruel, and they can also have detrimental effects on a laid-off employee’s mental health. During an already tumultuous time, full of uncertainty and shock, it can make them feel more like a number than a human.
Best practices to avoid Lazy Layoffs
Layoffs are a delicate balance of delivering the information you need to in a succinct way while offering support and compassion to the employee. If one of those gets thrown out of balance, you may find yourself overstepping or falling into the dreaded Lazy Layoff. Here are some tips from Herd to help avoid the pitfalls of a Lazy Layoff.
- Think about the employee first. Consider doing whatever you can to help make the employee’s life easier in a tumultuous time, such as giving a generous and appropriate severance package or sending a box to collect equipment instead of just a label.
- Script conversations. It’s important to prepare managers for the conversation beforehand. A layoff script should contain anything an employee needs to know and give the details that will ease uncertainty. Prepare for questions about everything from benefits to personal contacts.
- Walk managers through the process. It may be hard for managers to deliver tough news, especially for an employee who works directly under them. You may want to suggest managers make eye contact and avoid reading directly off the script and making the conversation feel impersonal. “At the end of the day, remind managers, ‘This is uncomfortable to deliver but worse for those receiving it. Your job is to make sure you’re making it more bearable, not more terrible,’” suggests Herd.
- Don’t be a silent witness. It’s important for HR to be proactive in case of missteps. While the manager should be in control of the conversation, if things start to go south, it’s important for HR to step in to redirect and take over the conversation instead.