Business Etiquette: How To Lay Off Employees with Resepect

Layoffs have become a way of life in recent years, and with lingering uncertainty in the economy, employees are not out of the woods yet.

If you’re a manager faced with the unenviable task of having to tell employees that they are being laid off, these etiquette rules will lead you through how to lay off employees with respect and consideration at a difficult time.

  • Prepare. Anticipate the questions that employees will have and how you will answer them. Carefully choose the language you will use so that you can deliver the message in a way that explains what’s happening, why it’s happening and what assistance is available for the employee.
  • Practice. Enlist a friend or colleague to help you run through the dreaded discussion. That will help you to be brief, to the point and ready for whatever reactions you face when delivering the news. Employees may be angry, sad (have a box of tissues handy), scared or unsurprised. However they react to the news, maintain your own professionalism and give them time to process the information.
  • Be empathetic. These are people you have worked with and had relationships with, so it’s perfectly alright to show some emotion instead of trying to act like a heartless corporate drone. Just be sure to keep the focus on the employee, not how hard it is for you to bear the bad news  or how hard it will be to come to work in such uncertainty (remember, you are the one that still has a job).
  • Decide what happens after the conversation. Some companies require laid-off employees to leave the premises immediately. If this is the case, be sure to schedule the layoff for a time when they won’t have to clear out their desk in front of other employees, either early in the morning, at lunch or at the end of the day. Balance the need to protect the company with the need to preserve dignity and professionalism for the laid-off employee.
  • Don’t get personal. Layoffs are usually financial decisions. It’s not the time to discuss an employee’s performance or other factors that aren’t really relevant to the layoff. In fact, it helps to emphasize that the reason for the layoff is a business decision, not a personal one.
  • Keep the rest of the team informed and supported. After the layoffs, be sure to communicate with the rest of the remaining team. Anxiety will be high, so let them know when the layoff process is complete. They’ll need special consideration and possibly additional training, especially since they’ll likely be taking on responsibilities left behind by former colleagues. Morale will be in a precarious spot, so be honest and up front about what happened and the company’s plans for the future. Keep the lines of communication open. While the layoffs are over for you, they are definitely on the minds of those who remain.

Take whatever steps you can to allow laid-off employees to be treated with respect and dignity. Not only is it important to represent your company in the best light possible by handling a painful situation well, but it’s the right way to treat people.


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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