Last year I had to learn how to lay off employees. I learned the way many of us learn these things. By doing it. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t exciting. But it got accomplished. Here’s what I learned about how to lay off employees from that experience.
5 tips for how to lay off employees
Care. This starts long before the layoff conversation. They need to know that there is a foundation of concern for them as a person beyond the job function. If you’ve put effort into showing your care and concern for them on previous occasions, it truly makes this conversation easier. They understand and accept it when you tell them that you’ve done all you could to find work for them. The news is hard, but it’s cushioned slightly by the way you treat them with dignity and respect.
Give all the details that you can. Hiding details doesn’t help the situation. Give them the accurate picture without releasing any proprietary information or something about another employee.
Do it privately. If at all possible, handle it somewhere private where the employee’s reaction will not be seen by others. This is key.
Do it quickly. Don’t delay. Don’t sit on the news. Do tell them as soon as you know. Do give them face time if at all possible.
Have a manager with you for support. It’s a tough conversation, and in 99% of cases they have a relationship with their manager that is deeper than their relationship with you. Give them a familiar face for comfort, even if it doesn’t change the end result.
Let’s be honest. Nobody ever wants to have that conversation with someone. However, if you must, here’s a short example of how to break the news.
How to lay off employees-a sample conversation
Hey, Bob. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. There’s no easy way to say this, but we are facing some tight budgets. We have been working to find additional work, but those efforts have not panned out. We are going to have to let some of our people go, and you are on that list. We truly wish it didn’t have to be that way, but we do not have a choice at this time. If you are okay with it, I would be happy to help look over your resume and send that out to a few other recruiters I know in the area. Obviously we’d like to bring you back if we find the work coverage, but I don’t know a timeline on that. Here is how your benefits will work… Here is what to expect… Here is how your last day will go… Here’s how you can file for unemployment if you are interested… Okay, I know it’s sudden and a shock for you, but is there anything I can answer right now for you? I would appreciate it you could keep this to yourself until we have a chance to meet with the rest of the affected people. If you have any questions or anything in the next few days, here’s my card. Feel free to call or email me at any time. Thanks again for your time, Bob. I’ll be in touch soon.
Relatively short, it gets all the pertinent points across, and it makes the other person feel like they matter (because they do, but you’re reminding them of that!). That’s what I’ve learned about how to lay off employees. Do you have any lessons, tips, or ideas to share?
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with the great team over at DriveThruHR about some of the things that are “keeping me up at night,” so to speak. We discussed hypergrowth (how to prepare for 50% growth in less than a month), what it means to hire for culture fit, and more. It was a great conversation, and I had a lot of fun discussing the things that make us better HR professionals.
With this blog I normally try to stick to HR content that you can put to good use, but today I’m going to lean back and give a quick update on the things that are going on.
Talking social for HR
Tuesday I am speaking to a local SHRM chapter (Winfield) about social media for HR professionals. Love talking about this topic and I think it’s unique since I don’t 1) try to sell social media as the best thing since sliced bread or 2) act like the legal universe implodes if you use Facebook for recruiting.
It will be a small, informal group, so I hope to have a good bit of Q&A to keep things lively. (Side note-I love speaking to HR professionals! If you have a group you’d like me to connect with, just shoot me an email and we can discuss the details).
NextChat-Employee Rating Systems
Wednesday I will be doing a Twitter chat with the fine folks at SHRM. The #nextchat will focus on rating employees and will be a lot of fun. If you are on Twitter, I’d love to have you join in the conversation! I will be talking all about how organizations can use rating systems for succession planning and talent management, but I’ll also look at how those tools can be ineffective or even damaging to a company if used poorly.
Thursday I will be speaking to the Huntsville NASHRM Mentor University (NMU) group about social media. I’ll be tweaking this one a little from the Tuesday session to talk a little more about using it for professional development, since I’ll be speaking to the younger/less experienced HR crowd.
I’m honored to go back and speak to this group, because I was in the inaugural NMU class and was able to land a phenomenal job due to the networking within the group. It’s a great initiative and I’m looking forward to seeing the group they have put together.
On the work front, we’re recruiting for over a dozen positions right now, and while I enjoy the recruiting, it’s taking over my life. I had a nightmare the other night that I couldn’t get the right candidate for a highly specialized job. Whew. We’re going to be starting mid-year reviews in about a month, we are changing insurance vendors, and I’m looking at increasing staff at the local office by about 50% within 4 weeks. Yeah, it’s fun to be a one-man HR shop sometimes! :-p
Also, I just confirmed that I will be covering the Alabama SHRM State Conference as a blogger. More details on that in the next few weeks.
What’s up with you guys? I like staying in touch with everyone and learning what is keeping you busy.
I don’t have cable. My life is a wee bit busy and I know that access and availability would mean more wasted time in front of the TV. But I will confess that I really like watching Justified and one other show online. The other night I was watching Justified and one line stuck in my head. The mob is trying to find out where their target is located, and the tension is heating up. Here’s a quick replay of the exchange as I remember it:
Mob Guy: We have to find him before someone else does. We want this guy bad.
Local Guy: He is not at the location I thought he was.
Mob Guy: That’s a comment, not a solution.
I loved that response, and I’ve kept it with me for the past few days as a reminder to keep my mouth shut if I don’t have something valuable to contribute to the discussion. I’ve held my tongue one or two times more than I usually would, so I’m going to count it as a success in that regard!
As long as we’re searching for answers, I’d like to point you to two other resources for keeping the focus on solutions.
Stop offering problems
It’s time to be proactive. Start looking for ways you can cut costs, streamline your functions, save time for managers, etc. Look for some solutions to age-old problems, not just new ones. Not sure where to start? Ask some of your managers what their biggest pain points are with regard to the HR or recruiting processes. Ask your senior leaders what their biggest concerns are at a corporate level. Then take that information and use it.
Want to know the fastest, easiest way to prove the value of the HR department? Solve a problem that plagues the management team. Yes, it seems simple, but it is often overlooked because HR tends to exist in its own little “bubble” and never takes the time to actually find out what the business needs are from the HR function.
Then take the time to communicate what you’ve found in the way of solutions to current problems. (Source)
Talk about how we can, not why we can’t
I absolutely love that quote (and the idea behind it). Instead of focusing on excuses or reasons you can’t make something happen, keep searching for ways to do it. Look for opportunities, not limitations. There are already enough people in the world who are ready and willing to tell you how something can’t be accomplished. Let’s work on cultivating more people that look for ways you can be successful. (Source)
Next time you have a meeting with a person or group of people, take a minute to think before you speak. Are you merely offering meaningless comments, or are you offering actual solutions to the problems at hand? Will your comments make the situation better, improve the outcome, or make someone’s life better, or is it all just talk?
If you’ve hung around here for very long, you know I’m not a big fan of policies. We don’t have a massive handbook for new hires that they have to sign on the first day claiming that they’ve read and understood the entire thing. I don’t look for opportunities to create new policies. I don’t let managers talk me into creating new policies.
So I’ve set the stage, right? I am very un-policy relative to my companions in the HR profession.
The policy alternative
What I do instead is offer coaching for managers and employees on how to handle issues.
Have an employee who’s consistently coming in late? That’s not against any rules. How’s her performance? Oh, that’s suffering? Then let’s have a talk with her about that, not the time she’s coming in to work.
Every time something comes up that we don’t currently have a policy for, I push for coaching and communication. And I might sound like a broken record, but I have managers who now laugh when they start telling me a problem, because they know that the answer is not going to be a shiny new policy or a rule.
But I do understand that this isn’t a permanent solution. We do have some policies on key things (timekeeping, paid time off, etc.) that people can check out on the intranet.
What I really want to know is where the tipping point is.
When do policies make sense?
When are we large enough for a policy to make sense? The thing that I keep thinking of is that a few isolated incidents are coaching issues. Here is the internal checklist I use to determine when a policy might be the answer:
Is this a major legal risk if we don’t have this policy in place? Be realistic!
Is this going to impact our customers negatively if we don’t have a policy in place?
Is it going to disrupt operations internally if we don’t have a policy? (Note: additional coaching time for HR/managers is not enough to warrant this.)
Are we distributed enough that we are no longer comfortable with local managers making these decisions? Is it a problem with our managers?
That’s not the entire list, but it’s the first initial steps I take when trying to determine if a policy is worth creating.
Advice on keeping your policies manageable
Tim Gardner, another HR blogger and friend, has some great advice.
To your question: Create a policy when existing policies and practices are either in conflict with the businesses needs, or inadequate for the potential of a situation that is likely to re-occur. And think about a policies like clothes in a full closet. If something comes in, is there something you aren’t likely to wear again that you can get rid of?
My two biggest rules for policy creation were outlined in a post from 3 years ago, and they still ring true for me today.
Don’t create a policy for the sake of having one
Don’t create policies for outliers
And finally, if you have never read my Open Letter to HR on Policies and Training, then you should stop and take two minutes to do that now. It was a semi-rant that I wrote a while back to address the crazy trend of employers trying to use policies instead of common sense.
I’d love to hear from some of you with a similar mindset of policy minimalism. When do you decide to put a new policy in place? Why? What’s your criteria? Do you ever revisit “old” ones to update or eliminate?
Many of us think we know how to build a new team, but it isn’t as easy as many of us might think. This process happens every day in organizations, whether people realize it or not. Let’s look at what I normally tell managers when they consider adding a new staff member:
Manager: I’d like to open a req and add someone to my team.
Me: Let me talk with you about how to build a new team. When you add a person to a team, you’re not just making it a larger team. You’re creating an entirely new group with new dynamics, roles, and responsibilities.
Manager: Yeah, but we just need to add a person. We already have a good team.
Me: Don’t look at it as adding a Lego to the top of the stack; look at it as if you’re taking the existing structure, tearing it down, and rebuilding it with the new piece added in.
Tips for how to build a new team
This topic hit me the other day when I read a post on the Ask a Manager blog. A reader was asking if it would be acceptable to meet and talk with some of the future coworkers before accepting a job with the company. Here was the initial response from Alison:
It’s actually surprising to me how uncommon of a request this is. Considering how much of an impact your coworkers will have on your quality of life, you’d think more people would want to do this.
That said, it is a fairly unusual request, particularly outside of senior level positions. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask it, though — you can. But because it’s unusual, you want to pay attention to how you word it. I’d say something like, “I’m really excited about this position. Before I formally accept, would it be possible to talk with others in the department to get a sense of how everyone works together? I’d love to have coffee with the people I’d be working closest with, or even just come in to talk with them, if possible.”
I think that’s a great idea, and I’m also surprised how many people don’t do this. I think a part of the reason we don’t get many of these requests is in the way we structure our interviews.
Our interviews focus on how to build a new team
Our interview process normally goes like this for positions at our Huntsville office:
We interview 5-6 people in the first round. This is normally with me (HR) and the hiring manager.
We bring back 2-4 people in the second round. This is normally with 2-3 coworkers of the potential new hire.
We bring back 1-2 people in the third round. This is to meet with the hiring manager and our President.
In case you missed it, the second step above is key to this discussion. We let the coworkers interview the candidates, and their votes contribute to who we bring back for the final round. This has helped us to avoid two hires in the past year who looked great on paper but totally flunked the “team” interview because the candidates were dismissive and uninterested in talking with the people who would be their teammates.
Plus the team is also highly engaged in the process and is more likely to be accepting of the candidate that is eventually chosen. The groundwork for communication and trust has been laid before the new team member even starts working. No team building session required to get started on the right foot.
If you’re trying to learn how to build a new team, you should consider these angles or risk missing a critical step in the process. What are your tips for how to build a new team?
It is difficult to describe the company merger process with regard to the effects on employees, but one that I want to touch on today is one that has been a consistent focus area for us in recent years. As a government contractor, if we win a contract, we take over all employees currently working on the contract and they join our workforce.
The issue comes when we start running into employee relations issues with the existing workforce. In other words, we wouldn’t have hired these people outright, but we had to as part of the contract turnover.
Don’t get me wrong, we also earned ourselves some amazing new staff members who are professional to the core. We’re proud to have them aboard and wouldn’t trade them away.
But as for some of the others, we had to live with them. We had to put up with them. And it was tough.
I’ve talked before about our tough standards of hiring for culture fit. We take this stuff seriously. So what do we do when we have to deal with employees we didn’t hire? How do the parts play out in this scenario? Read on for how I’ve seen the various pieces fall into place over time. It’s an interesting phenomenon and I’d love to hear some ideas from people on how they might have successfully integrated multiple workforce groups.
How do the new employees react in the company merger process?
Well, if time is any indication, they realize pretty quickly that they don’t fit into the new culture. They eventually become uncomfortable with the working arrangement and often resign. We use retention as a key metric for our HR operations, but in instances like those I am perfectly happy to let the person go. Yes, it’s a hassle, but we get to start the recruiting process to find a new person that fits our cultural norms and agrees with our core values and customer-focused mission.
For the ones who are a closer fit to our corporate culture, it’s a really fun time to watch the full transition. Some of the most meaningful compliments I’ve received as an HR professional came from this group of employees, including:
Wow, our last HR rep wouldn’t have even called me back about this issue.
Our last HR person didn’t do anything about this problem, but I know you can help.
It’s so great to be at a company that cares about its people.
You guys make it fun working here. I love coming to work every morning.
In those moments, I realize that it’s worth all the trouble in the world to make an impact for those select few who do stick with us for the long haul.
What about the originals (employed before the company merger process)?
This is the tough part. Hiring with a strict standard means that the majority of our staff are firmly committed to the success of the organization. Then virtually overnight we gather up a number of people in the company merger process who are more interested in looking for ways to avoid working than they are in actually serving our customers well. It’s a complete 180-degree shift, and for many current employees, it’s very difficult to handle.
We work hard to keep pouring the positivity and encouragement into the staff to keep them from losing focus. The majority of the time these contract changes are geography-based, so we don’t normally have “new” employees working physically close to “old” employees. That definitely helps to lessen the effects of bringing on the new people, though it could also theoretically flow the other way and allow our “old timers” to help influence the new people and teach them what matters.
We also learned the hard way that there’s a shortcut to this cultural indoctrination process.
The company merger process secret weapon
We’ve learned by trial and error that a key to success is embedding a solid leader in a management position with the new staff. That person needs to “bleed green,” as we often say. That doesn’t mean they give up their life for Pinnacle or that they are a brown-nosing loser. It just means they understand our mission and our customer very well and can help coach the other managers and staff on how we do things.
I’ve heard that USAA does something similar. Whenever they open a new office in the field, they don’t hire a brand new person to run the office. They send someone trained in the company’s history, values, and culture out to start the office. Then they grow it organically from there. It’s a brilliant concept, and I think one that is worth exploring if you do much of this type of growth. I talk more about this concept of culture change through mergers and acquisitions in the Rock Your Culture guide, if you’re interested in delving deeper.
Anyone else out there have a company merger process story where you picked up employees that you wouldn’t have hired in the first place? How did you handle the situation?