How to Lay Off Employees Gracefully and With Dignity

by | Feb 29, 2024

At some point, a leader will be put in a tough position and forced to make difficult choices. Laying off an employee is one of those decisions. Not only will it impact morale, employee engagement and the company’s brand, it’s also extremely difficult for the employee who is being let go.

 

For the employee, they’ll be dealing with a range of emotions. Losing a job can be a devastating experience, both financially and emotionally.

 

Learning how to lay off employees gracefully and with dignity is the sign of an enlightened executive.

 

How to Lay Off Employees Gracefully and with Dignity

 

Remember, it’s not the HR playbook that’s going to make a difference here. It’s you. Your words. Your tone. Your actions. It’s also about considering all the options such as redeployment to other units or upskilling and training for new assignments within the organization.

 

Managers should also be prepared with separation packages, details about health benefits and what will happen to their paid off and vacation time. Offering career coaching, counseling, access to recruiters and recommendation letters can also help an employee ease into this transition phase. It’s also critical to communicate on a regular basis what is and will be happening.

 

Remember to be upfront and honest about why the person was selected to be separated from the payroll.

 

What Not to Do

 

While some employers do a commendable job of handing unfortunate layoffs, some have demonstrated what NOT to do during a layoff. For example, HyperSocial’s infamous blunder was an epic fail when CEO Braden Wallake faced the grim task of layoffs by choosing to share his emotional turmoil with the world through a selfie. Yes, a selfie. While his tear-streaked post was meant to show vulnerability, it came across as self-centered theater to the very folks who were now job hunting. The lesson?

 

When laying off employees, it is incredibly important to consider the sensitivity of the situation and how a layoff will impact a person and their life. Perhaps Wallake could have focused his attention serving his employees and working with the HR department to assist individuals during this difficult transition.

 

Be Clear, Be Human

 

Instead of alerting the employee via email, offer the impacted worker the chance to discuss with the boss or human resources why this happened, so they can process the action taken and maybe learn something for the future.

 

For the person relaying the bad news, don’t make it about yourself. Focus on what you can do to ease this transition. Attention also needs to be paid to the remaining staff. It’s natural for the rest of your employees to worry about whether they’ll be the next one to go. If attention isn’t paid to this group, they’ll become stressed, disengaged and less productive.

 

Give Your Team Peace of Mind

 

Attention also needs to be paid to the remaining staff. It’s natural for the rest of your employees to worry about whether they’ll be the next one to go. If attention isn’t paid to this group, they’ll become stressed, disengaged and less productive.

 

Before the dust begins to settle after a round of layoffs, it’s a pivotal moment for a leader to deliver a message that’s both reassuring and genuine. Be transparent about the state of the company, but more importantly, be specific about why your remaining employees’ jobs are secure.

 

For instance, “Our Q2 projections show a stable customer base, and thanks to our team’s innovation, we’re on track with our product development, ensuring our market position and your job stability.” This kind of clear, evidence-based communication can serve as a solid foundation for employees to stand on amidst the tremors of change.

 

Calm the Shareholders

 

Shareholders and other stakeholders tend to watch how a leader delivers bad news in the moment to employees. The key here is to communicate with precision and foresight, balancing current realities with a vision for the future.

 

Simplify to Amplify

 

In the aftermath of layoffs, the last thing anyone needs is convoluted messages that raise questions about the viability of the company. Instead, keep the messaging short and simple – in other words, KISS the message so that it’s clear, concise, and easy to understand. Whether you’re addressing employees, stakeholders, or the public, stick to the essence of the message.

 

For example, rather than a long-winded explanation, a simple message could be, “We’re making focused changes to strengthen our core services and continue our commitment to quality.” This approach respects the audience’s time and understanding, cutting through the noise to deliver a clear, concise message that resonates.

 

Offer More Than Just a Farewell

 

Outplacement services are helpful resources that not only soften the blow of being laid off but also provide valuable support to employees needing to transition to a new job. These services can also be part of the severance negotiations in the event an employee chooses to discuss their package.

 

Lead with Heart and Mind

 

Learning how to lay off employees with dignity is about leadership, strategy and most importantly empathy. The layoff process is difficult however following the above steps and best practices will help you and those affected employees navigate the layoff process with dignity and grace.

 

Want to learn more about how you can handle layoffs, or any other business issue with grace and confidence? Email us at to book a free consultation call with our communication experts.

Nicole Harris

Nicole Harris is the Founder and CEO of Solv Communications, a leading Reputation Management and PR agency in the Prairies. As a former network television news anchor and reporter, Nicole has gained deep insight into the power of earning trust through strategic communication. Over her 15-year career in the media she has covered some of the most high- profile risk management stories including cyber breaches at Fortune 500 companies, product recalls, workplace violence and everything in between. Nicole and her team’s extensive industry knowledge and strategic guidance will help you focus on what is in your control to mitigate risk and minimize damage to your reputation. It’s all about prioritizing strategic planning to spot an issue, effectively manage it, and develop action plans to safely steer you through any situation before it damages your reputation. Nicole has developed and delivered bespoke reputation management, strategic, and media training for senior executives, board members, politicians, and celebrities.