Addressing and managing the separation of an employee or a group of employees from the company is a difficult task for any organization. The attitude, knowledge, skill, and preparation of managers facing this task play a significant role in the successful outcome of this process for the employees being released and for the vitality of the new organization that remains.
The Critical Phases
Take time to understand your feelings. For most managers, the anticipation of having to face employees with this news produces some very natural reactions. It is common to feel nervous, guilty, reluctant, angry, and personally vulnerable as the separation event is planned and carried out.
While you need to manage your feelings, you must conclude that your feelings are secondary in this process. The separation meeting’s critical focus and the surrounding events are on the separated employee’s emotions and reactions. Later, you will need to focus on the need and responses of the ‘surviving’ or remaining employees.
Once the decision is made, move quickly to separate. Get CPIBN consultants involved immediately to help coordinate the transition of the affected employees.
- Set goals for the notification(s). Setting goals will help you to maintain the dignity and self-esteem of the impacted employee(s) and will empower remaining employees to commit to the new organization. It will also protect and maintain the organization’s integrity.
- Confidentiality is critical. All the plans and all the names need to be protected. While it may be natural to share the burden of such heavy information, it can have serious consequences within the organization, with customers and clients, and within the community. The untimely and uncontrolled release of confidential information to anyone other than CPIBN can create irreparable damage to the impacted employees and the organization.
- Move quickly. Provide working notices only when necessary. A clean and decisive cut is always more humane for all parties involved. The decision has been made for the separation, so let the separation occur.
- Think ahead. In anticipation of the separation meeting, plan and prepare for your role in the event, as you will most likely be the first link in the chain of events that will unfold. Your efforts in planning and preparing will contribute greatly to the smooth flow of events with a minimum of disruption and trauma to all involved.
- Know the logistics. Reserve and prepare a private setting with no windows facing work areas. Be sure to have a telephone, tissues, and water readily available. It is recommended that this meeting not be conducted in the employee’s office or in a room where peers can observe the meeting, the employee’s reaction, nor their exit from the meeting. Plan the meeting in collaboration with Human Resources. When there is a group of employees involved, you may be provided with a precise schedule.
- Identify Resources and Support Contingencies. Prepare or obtain phone numbers for Human Resources, Security, EAP, etc. In a more extensive notification, HR may have this information prepared for you. Be familiar with all corporate resources you have available for support and know where those resources are located.
- Rehearse the message. Each employee separation is unique. Think about each person being informed and try to anticipate that employee’s reactions. Where you have particular concerns, seek guidance before the meeting. Role-play your message with a manager or HR representative if possible.
- Understand all separation information and documents. You will need to be very clear about what is happening and what is being done for the employee. Seek answers to questions you have so that you are clear about what will happen, who will be affected, and why, and what unique benefits and considerations are offered. Be sure that you are familiar with the reason for the reduction, the schedule of events, and plans for the employee(s) leaving the building.
- Be sure you know the objectives. Inform the employee in a definite, straightforward, and sensitive manner that his/her job is being eliminated or no longer exists. Provide the employee with details of the separation agreement, including career transition support. Ensure each separation’s professional and humane management to protect the organization’s integrity and image while maintaining employee dignity and self-esteem.
- Keep it private. Schedule a private meeting with the affected employee. Assume a formal demeanor and communicate the corporate decision and present the decision as final and non-negotiable. Always offer support and encouragement.
- Deliver the message clearly. Follow the prepared separation message/script and ensure the message is consistent if there are multiple employees. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for employees to grasp the information. And remember that the message will get back into the work areas quickly.
- Anticipate reactions and prepare to respond. The employee has just been asked to absorb and accept some life-altering news.
- Manage the conclusion. Meetings of this nature should typically take about 10 to 15 minutes. A more extended session usually makes matters worse, not better. To conclude the discussion, stand up and accompany the employee to the CPIBN consultant for a post-termination meeting to explain transition services. For security and humane reasons, the separated employee should be accompanied at all times until leaving the building. This is not a sign of mistrust; it is merely prudent business practice.
Communicate with remaining employees. To enable the organization to achieve the reduction’s objectives, the remaining employees must be informed as soon as possible after the reduction has been completed.
Successful completion of a reduction-in-force plan requires an urgent commitment on the part of management to obtain support from the remaining employees. This requires communicating as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, and providing ongoing support to the remaining employees.
Remember: Endings Push New Beginnings
The remaining employees are the new organization.
They will need to be:
- Informed of the changes that have occurred and the reasons for the changes.
- Reassured that this reduction is over, and they are valued members of the organization.
- Told that the individuals affected by the reduction are receiving financial and career support to assist them in their transition. Since this is when rumors flourish, encourage employees to verify rumors and ‘grapevine information’ with you.
Come to terms with your own emotions. Recognizing your feelings regarding the reduction-in-force is a crucial first step in preparing yourself to deal with the reality. You may also feel vulnerable yourself, and you need to be prepared for verbal assaults on your integrity or management style by the remaining employees. They are just beginning to react to the staff reduction and are dealing with an array of emotions. Some of them may feel a need to place blame. Open and immediate communication will significantly reduce the chance of any misunderstanding.
Be sensitive to remaining employee reactions. Some remaining employees may feel guilty that they were spared. Others may feel angry that management was not able to prevent the situation.
It is not unusual for assumptions about how layoff selections were determined to circulate, as well as rumors about future reductions. If the reduction-enforce results from a merger, it is common to hear staff discuss which side is favored. Do your best to calm everyone, but remember that some are natural and will fade in time.
Translate loss to empowerment. This is a critical time when the remaining employees need reassurance of their worth to the organization. A variety of sensitive actions on your part will provide that kind of reassurance.
- Share information about the new work structure and help employees manage new workloads. Effectively and confidently handle the ongoing communication.
- Be prepared for questions about job security, the quality of life in the new organization, and future plans.
- Be visible and available.
- Appreciate your responsibility as a leader, balancing professionalism and compassion.
- Understand that your behavior sets the tone and lasting impression for those who leave and those who stay behind.
- Challenge each employee to create his/her new image of the new organization. This is a time when the organization and the employee can both reinvent themselves.
Keep the goal in sight. For the employees who remain, it is critical that all managers anticipate and appreciate their reactions, recognize their specific and individual needs and value, and that they feel empowered for the future.
Your role in the separation process is pivotal for the separated employee(s), those who remain with the new organization, and the organization itself.