Handling reductions in your workforce? Here’s what NOT to do. 

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down, making savvy business-decisions even more difficult and disconcerting. These times of crisis are difficult to manage, especially for those at the top who are weighing the decision of making cuts so they can keep the business afloat. 

Right now, this is a familiar concern for many. There’s never an easy way to handle layoffs, but certain choices can ensure that you are doing so appropriately. 

We took a look into some severely mismanaged layoffs (that led to bad press) and wanted to offer tips on what not to do so you don’t make similar mistakes. 


DON’T: Fumble the announcement with poorly executed communications.

In 2014, following Twitter’s announcement of Jack Dorsey as permanent CEO, news leaked that the co-founder’s first order of business was to make cuts across practically all departments. The public rumor concerning mass layoffs at the company caused internal chaos as employees were unsure about what to expect. 

Internal concerns quickly turned to into a full-fledged crisis for the tech giant when employees started to state publicly that they didn’t know they were let go until they realized their work email account was shut down.

In all fairness, Twitter did send out emails to laid-off employees (a terrible approach in communicating layoffs, to begin with). Regardless, leadership should have addressed layoff rumors when they first circulated. Instead, they chose to ignore the hearsay before suddenly laying-off 336 employees via email.  


DON’T: Fail to plan ahead.

The Upright Citizens Brigade has a history of financial challenges and has faced backlash in the past for mishandling layoffs and theater closures. As a network of theaters that offer group improv classes, company leadership (UCB4) should have immediately known that COVID-19 could devastate their business.  Just like you can’t get on stage to perform a comedy show without preparing, you can’t run a business without thinking through potential vulnerabilities and preparing for possible crises ahead of time. 

UCB’s lack of preparation is apparent through the group’s inability to communicate its mass layoffs effectively. UCB contacted some employees about the layoffs via phone, and some were informed by email. In contrast, some employees didn’t know about the loss of their job until a week after UCB announced the layoffs—when they received a written letter in their mailbox..

The lesson here? Plan ahead and make sure your communications to employees are coordinated. Laughter isn’t the best medicine if your mismanagement of layoffs is the butt end of the joke. 


DON’T: Undermine employment promises without addressing staff first. 

Michael Bloomberg’s financial leverageand his campaign’s public employment pitch to pay staffers through November, even if he lost the nominationenticed more than 800 people around the country to work on his campaign.  

Despite a public commitment to pay staffers through November, the clause was missing from employment contracts. A technicality that Bloomberg’s team should have addressed internally before laying off all campaign staff – a move that led to negative press and prompted lawsuits from upset staffers who were under the impression that they were on the campaign payroll through November.

While the immense amount of money spent on Bloomberg’s presidential run can stand as a case study on its own, the mismanagement of his campaign staffers is even more notable. The moral of the story here? Be open and honest with employees about all of the moves you’re making. If you have to go back on your word, address it and provide the reasoning behind your move. 

DON’T: Forget to be human.

COVID-19 has left everyone in the world with feelings of uncertainty and confusion. The situation is unsettling, upsetting, and people are on edge about their financial future.  

While telling someone that they are no longer working for your company is emotional and exhausting,  imagine how heart-wrenching it is to be on the other side of that news. It is absolutely essential that those delivering layoff news do so with compassion and empathy. Don’t communicate bad news over a scripted email or pass along news robotically with no personalization. 

Oh, and don’t layoff more than 500 employees on Valentine’s Day, a holiday centered around love and kindness, like Wayfair did earlier this year.


The Communications Guide to Layoffs
To help businesses handle the unprecedented turmoil of our economy and 
navigate the very real and very fast impact, we’ve developed a series 
of articles detailing best practices regarding layoff communications:
Part 1: The Reputational Risk of RIF
Part 2: Execute a layoff narrative pivot
Part 4: Layoff Communications Do’s
Part 5: Corporate PR Recommendations for COVID-19
Part 6: Managing Internal Layoff Communications
Part 7: Greenbrier Live - RIF Communications 101