Handling reductions in your workforce? Here are a few examples of good approaches to take.

Any layoff, especially at scale, is not welcomed by anyone other than a balance sheet. Although there are several successful strategies to attempt before a reduction in force, it’s something that every organization should be prepared to manage with a tested communications plan. 

These are unprecedented times as this pandemic impacts businesses of all sizes and industries. Companies are already facing (or will be in the coming weeks) the necessary action of workforce reduction to keep afloat. 

We’ve outlined a few examples of poorly managed layoffs, but also want to take you through examples of  approaches you can follow when handling reductions during this pandemic or future crises.  


DO: Show strength. 

On March 24, 2020, San Francisco based tech-driven hospitality company, Sonder, announced on LinkedIn how they’re preparing to withstand the pandemic and upcoming recession, including a workforce reduction. Needless to say, the travel and hospitality industries are hard-hit right now, yet Sonder is staying positive in their approach and tone. Choosing positivity over negativity can be extremely important both for external and internal perceptions. 

Sonder shows their strength by clearly outlining steps they’re taking in the short term and long term to help weather this storm. While they could have just come out and announced layoffs, they paired the news with ways the company is working to mitigate further damage—a valuable lesson in forward momentum. 

A 2002 study found that after a layoff, survivors experienced a 41% decline in job satisfaction, a 36% decline in organizational commitment, and a 20% decline in job performance. By outlining plans for your organization, you can mitigate some of these issues, making sure retained staff are ready to continue doing great work, care about the company, and trust the leadership. 


DO: Provide resources to impacted employees. 

How you treat your employees as they leave, says a lot about your company. You should always strive to treat exiting employees as fairly as possible; one terrible review on Glassdoor could seriously impact recruitment efforts in the future. The Greenbrier team has encountered countless instances where an angry former employee is the source of a negative news story.

Having experienced protests and bad press from layoffs in 2008, Nokia knew they had to do something differently during 2011 when they were faced with laying off 18,000 employees. They developed a program called “Bridge” to help employees find a new job within or outside of Nokia, provide funds to help them start their own businesses, and provided programs to learn new skills or pursue personal goals. 

Given the climate of this current crisis, those solutions may not be realistic. Still, there are plenty of less costly things you could provide to impacted employees: offer resume-building workshops through the HR department, connect laid-off employees to people in your network, or offer to cover fees for online classes. Whatever you can do will help mitigate the impact – even if it’s organic or just passing on something helpful.


DO: Consider your method of delivery and your CEO’s capabilities. 

How you announce a workforce reduction can be just as important as the message itself. An email from the CEO may work for a large company with offices sprawled across the nation, whereas that approach might seem odd for a startup of 30 people in the same building. It’s important to keep in mind how your company typically receives important news and build your plan around what works best. 

Regardless of your delivery method, one thing almost always remains true—your CEO should make the announcement. While in general, the Greenbrier team is in favor of the communications team taking arrows and the leadership making positive news, a layoff is not the time for your CEO to defer to other leadership. 

To highlight another COVID-19 example, Marriott recently released an inspiring video for their employees featuring their CEO, Arne Sorenson, in an approach that accomplished mass distribution and showcased Arne’s raw emotion during this difficult time. While a video like this might not be appropriate for everyone, when done well, it can serve to strengthen your brand and the perception of your CEO. Just make sure you know your CEO’s strengths and weaknesses and that they don’t come off as scripted or fake. Watch this video and tell us if it doesn’t make you tear up a little! 


DO: Be respectful. 

Last but not least, be respectful. While tough decisions are necessary for any business, realize that these decisions severely impact people’s lives. In 2017 when Medium’s CEO announced laying off 50 people from the company, he noted his love and respect for the entire team, as well as how difficult the decision was. Yes, it’s a business decision, but it’s highly personal and should be treated as such. He kept his letter short and to the point, but didn’t fail to include personal touches. 

This isn’t the time for communication clogged up with corporate lingo; this is a time to be concise, honest, and respectful. 


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 3: Layoff Communications Don’ts
Part 5: Corporate PR Recommendations for COVID-19
Part 6: Managing Internal Layoff Communications
Part 7: Greenbrier Live - RIF Communications 101