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Leading With Compassion Through Downsizing and Terminations

AdobeStock_119547450_1024pxIn good, bad, and uncertain times, layoffs and terminations continue to occur in every type of business and industry. How such reductions impact the displaced employee, and those remaining depends in large part on the leadership style of the organization and the way they handle these difficult decisions. Empathetic leadership and communication are critical in fortifying a culture of trust and security, even in the face of dismissals.

Practice Empathetic Leadership Continually

When employees witness consistent empathetic leadership, they begin to trust their leaders are honest, trustworthy, and caring. It takes some time for regular, sound leadership to demonstrate genuine care and concern, but the return on investment is enormous. Not only do employees feel more engaged and productive working for empathetic leaders, but theyre also more likely to trust the organization and its leaders when faced with difficult decisions, such as employee reductions. 

Ways Leaders Demonstrate Empathy:

  • Listen Actively - Empathetic leaders listen with open ears, eyes, and hearts. They don't interrupt and are fully present. Their body language communicates they’re open and listening, as they lean in and show interest.
  • Take Personal Interest - Showing genuine curiosity and concern about the lives of those who work for them. Empathetic leaders ask questions about employees’ lives, families, challenges, aspirations, and encourage such sharing.
  • Seek Understanding - Even when shared thoughts and feelings are opposite of their own, empathetic leaders leave judgement behind.
  • Encourage Participation - Empathetic leaders empower everyone around them by encouraging all, even the quietest ones, to have a say.
  • Give Space - Allow distressed employees personal space and time, as they may need to process their emotions.
  • Respond Responsibly - Providing punctual and honest responses in conjunction with empathetic active listening demonstrates mutual respect and caring even in the toughest conversations.

Empathy in leadership is both subtle and highly impactful. It requires leading from within as a strength of emotion and thinking which when exercised can become stronger. It often cost nothing and yet pays huge dividends in building positive, lasting working relationships able to withstand the stress of layoffs and terminations. The most critical commitment an organization can make to create a culture of compassion is to hire, train, and support empathetic leaders.


Learn more about our Career Transition Service. 


Communicate openly

Terminations and layoffs can have a ripple effect within an organization, intimately affecting some remaining employees. Those with similar roles may hold legitimate worries about their job security. Colleagues close to displaced employees may be grieving the loss of a friend at work. Such negative experiences can be mitigated by communicating as openly as possible at termination or immediately afterwards.

Conversation Starting Points:

  • “Your position is not being eliminated. We have communicated with all impacted individuals affected by this layoff.” Employees often struggle feeling secure during and after a layoff or termination. Once you’ve made the final decision, take special care to let remaining employees know their role is safe and express sincerity in looking forward to the next steps in the organization’s lifecycle with them.
  • “We’re here for you.” Employers can show empathy by merely 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.

If applicable, it’s important to share that your organization provides career transition services to its departing employees to help them navigate their way from job loss to successful job search. Providing such a benefit demonstrates commitment to employee well-being and reinforces trust and security for employees. Additionally, these services offer communication guidance and coaching throughout the process. An example can be found in our Manager’s Guide to Conducting Notification Meetings.

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 organization added significant value and meaningfulness, and caring for those remaining after the layoff, you can mitigate the impact on your organization while nurturing your future employment brand.

About Waldron CPI Career Transition Services

Waldron CPI views service support through two lenses:

1) The experience of impacted individuals using career transition services.

2) The organization’s lens and the experience of HR team members and business leaders responsible for outplacement/career transition services.

Waldron CPI’s career transition/outplacement services promise and deliver a high-touch, personalized experience for each employee and provide the best results:

  • 83% - Industry’s best percentage of landing at equal/greater compensation
  • +77 - Industry’s highest Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • 30:1 - Industry’s best participant to career coach ratio
  • 2.73 Months – Industry's fastest average time to re-employment
  • 97% - Highly satisfied clients 

Departing employees will assess several alternatives for their next professional experience—including re-employment, flexible work arrangements, part-time or contract employment, consulting, entrepreneurial endeavors, or retirement.

Contact us to learn about Waldron CPI’s industry-leading results. The results help organizations optimize return on investment in offering exceptional career transition services, including reduction-in-force (RIF) planning and manager notification training.