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Supporting Employees During and After a Layoff: A Guide

By: Andrew Deen


Depressed and disappointed employee packing his belongings after being fired for not being competent. Gossiped by his colleagues behind his back. Layoff due to economic depression.

Laying someone off is one of the hardest decisions a business person can make. Firing in general is always hard, but in this case, the person probably deserves their job. They are being let go not because of something they did but because external factors have made it no longer sensible to keep them employed.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, there are ways you can make things a little bit better for the person who is being let go. In this article, we take a look at how you can support employees during and after a layoff. Read on to learn more!

The Situation

It happened. The thing you always feared the most. Some good, hard workers no longer have a place in your business. They have bills to pay. Student loans to work through. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t yours. Sometimes the economy takes on a trajectory that requires tough decision-making. This is one of those times.

For what it’s worth, the employee in question knows the deal as well as you do. They don’t take it personally. They do need help.

As a business owner, you’ll need to make the first move, crossing into the awkward territory of reaching out to the person you just had to lay off. Uncomfortable? Yes, but also an ethical, responsible way to continue doing right by the people under your employ.

Recommendation Letter

One of the easiest ways to lend support to a recent layoff is to write them a glowing recommendation letter. In fact, it’s fair to say that if you don’t do this, it will be a big hindrance to your recent dismissal.

Think about it this way: would you want to hire someone with work experience, but no recommendations? It invites questions and unfavorable conclusions on the part of the person making the hire.

Highlight your former employee’s strengths. You don’t need to write Moby Dick to give them a helping hand. A few paragraphs. Five minutes of your time. A potential world of difference to the person who has just been laid off.

Mental and Emotional Support

In corporate America, layoffs typically involve a whole team of people. The manager. HR. And sometimes even an emotional health professional. Here’s how it goes. The manager explains why the decision was made. HR tells the recently dismissed employee what’s next in terms of their benefits and compensation. And then the mental health professional stays on to make sure that the recently dismissed person is in a fit emotional state.

Now, is that feasible for a small business? Maybe not. However, you can be sensitive to the gravitas of what has just happened. Losing one’s job consistently polls within the top five most stressful experiences in adult life. People dread it, and when it actually happens, the emotional ramifications can feel overwhelming.

Finding ways to be there as a support system for your dismissed employees can have an enormous impact on their emotional health.

Make Introductions

It’s probably true that you are on familiar terms with many business owners in your community, and even your chosen field. While it may not be your first instinct to send over former employees to the competition, there is honor in acknowledging that while you might not be able to offer this person employment anymore, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a job at all.

Making introductions for your recently dismissed employees can make a big difference in their ability to find new work. While you won’t have the sway to actually get them a new job, your small endorsement could make all the difference when the job market is crowded with qualified candidates.

Take Ownership of the Situation

Finally, it’s important to call a spade a spade. “Layoff,” has a very specific connotation. It means that the employee didn’t really earn their fate. It was a product of larger consequences. Maybe the economy soured. Maybe you made a dicey decision here or there that didn’t pay off.

Whatever the case, it’s good to acknowledge the reality of the situation. Vocalize what the dismissed employee already knows to be true. They don’t deserve what is happening. In different circumstances, they would still have their job.

It’s not a fun conversation to have. No one wants to admit fault. But it allows the person you are dismissing to walk out of the room with their dignity intact.

Now, wait a second. This really wasn’t my fault. I—

Right, right. It might not have been. Layoffs happen for many reasons. We aren’t trying to tell you to sit there and say, “Hey, you know that recession they keep talking about on the news? It’s my fault. Which brings me to my next point. How up-to-date is your resume?”

You don’t have to take full blame. You should make sure that the person isn’t made to feel like it is their fault.

A Supplementary Benefit

Obviously, you don’t want to enter this situation thinking, “now what can I get out of it?”. But at the same time, it is worth mentioning that treating your employee layoffs with grace and respect will buy you a lot of credit in the community.

For one thing, doing right by your layoffs will earn you goodwill with the employees that do remain. It’s an uncomfortable situation when someone gets let go. Current employees may feel insecure in their employment— sometimes justifiably, other times not. If you want to avoid a mass exodus, it helps to assuage their anxiety by showing that you care.

It will also land well within your community. Most likely, your hope is to one day start hiring again. When that situation does arise, potential new hires will evaluate their desire to work for you based on your reputation as an employer.

So, yes. Reaching out to lend a hand to your recent layoff may seem like time and potentially, money, that you don’t have handy, but it is a worthwhile investment.

Published: March 9, 2023

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Andrew Deen

Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business. Twitter @AndrewDeen14.

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