Do you ever have dé·jà vu? That feeling of ‘I’ve been down this path before’? Well, it’s happening to me…

Over 20 years ago, I embarked on my Ph.D. to study the impact of downsizing on survivors. Over the course of three years, I observed hundreds of thousands of employees being laid off, using a variety of approaches, management styles, communication techniques and support mechanisms. And believe me when I say, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way engages your workforce in a re-invigorated future while the wrong way can lead your organization into a cycle of decline.

What I learned probably won’t surprise you – but perhaps a timely reminder of how to do this well, given the current trends, is a good discussion to have in your HR department. Here are five things to know if you have no alternative to layoffs:

1. Transparency. Success of layoffs depend on having clear and legitimate criteria for who is leaving and staying; a fair and transparent process, and well thought through communications plan and support for both leavers and stayers.

 2. Communicate. How you handle the layoffs will have a significant impact on your remaining employees. Don’t underestimate the level of emotional response among your survivors – they will likely experience shock, anger, disbelief, stress, and confusion. All perfectly normal responses that will dissipate over time. Employees will have an insatiable need for clarity, information, and communication. You cannot over communicate before, during or after layoffs.

 3. Recognize. Know that how you treat those being laid off will have a lasting impact on your remaining employees. Your every move is being watched, judged, and evaluated by your survivors. This will influence their behavior as to whether they stay, leave, hunker down or even ‘quiet quit’ on the job until something better comes along.  Treat those leaving with recognition for their contribution, compassion, and where possible provide support such as outplacement services.

 4. Be Decisive. Avoid death by a thousand cuts. If you can avoid ongoing rounds of layoffs that drag on for months or even years, you have better chances of a success. Be decisive, ongoing cuts that seem disorganized or arbitrary cause insecurity, fear and frustration among your workforce and send the message you do not have a clear strategy or plan for the future.

 5. Refocus. Remember to refocus. Cuts are hard, but the blow can be softened by a clear strategy and robust path forward to achieve your company goals. Employees need to have a clear understanding of how their role fits in the company’s future.

 It is important to know that you cannot rush your employees to the refocus phase, without first letting them reflect and process their emotions. Successful organizations are those willing to spend time over-communicating, providing support and giving employees a voice.


“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business”.