Layoffs and terminations occur in every business and every industry. How a termination affects the employee in transition and those remaining depends largely on the leadership style of the company and the way they handle difficult decisions such as these. Empathetic leadership is critical in maintaining a culture of trust and security even in the face of dismissals.
Practice empathetic leadership 24/7
When employees witness consistent empathetic leadership, they begin to trust that their leaders are honest, trustworthy, and caring. It can take weeks, months, or even years of consistent, sound leadership to demonstrate sincere care and concern for your human resources, but the return on investment is high. Not only do employees feel more engaged and productive working for empathetic leaders, they are also more likely to trust the company through difficult decisions—and less likely to see their leaders as inhumane following a layoff.
Managers can demonstrate empathy and build rapport in simple ways:
- Listen to employee questions and concerns with real interest and engagement, working hard to provide a punctual and honest response;
- Allow a distressed employee to go home early if they need time to process their emotions.
Empathy in leadership is both subtle and highly impactful. Care and concern for employees often costs nothing and builds a positive and lasting working relationship that can withstand the stress layoffs cause. The most critical step the company can take to create a culture of compassion is to hire compassionate leaders who demonstrate the company's commitment to humane leadership.
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Keep in mind that a layoff may intimately affect some remaining staff. Employees most likely to struggle with the change include those with similar roles who may legitimately worry about their job security, and those close to the employee who may grieve the loss of a friend at work. By communicating as openly as possible with these individuals at termination or immediately after you can improve their experience at work. Consider using these starting points for your discussions:
- "Your position is not being eliminated. We have communicated with all impacted individuals effected by this lay off." Employees often struggle to feel secure during and after a layoff. Once you’ve made the final decision, take special care to let remaining employees know that you are not letting them go, and that you sincerely look forward to the next steps in the company's lifecycle with them.
- "We're here for you." Employers can show empathy by simply saying, "We know how hard this can be and we anticipate that you may be experiencing a wide variety of emotions right now. We're here for you if you need to talk." Because of the inhumane reputation layoffs and terminations share, this simple step can shift that viewpoint and provide the support remaining employees need to transition successfully.
- "This was not an easy decision." Employees need to know that the layoff was difficult for you, too. It demonstrates your care and concern for your team.
It's also important to share that you provided career transition services at no cost to the transitioning employees to help them navigate and ensure a successful job search for the right position following dismissal. Following through with your communication (by allowing employees to share their concerns in the coming weeks) is especially critical in reinforcing trust and security for employees.
In summary, empathy is the tie that binds an organization together before, during, and after a layoff. By demonstrating consistent compassion, showing those who must leave that their time with the company added significant value and meaningfulness, and caring for those remaining after the layoff, you can mitigate the impact on your organization.