Layoff communications: The good, the bad and the ugly

It’s one of the hardest things to communicate. Here’s how to do it in a compassionate way.

How to communicate layoffs

One of the hardest parts of business communications is getting more attention as layoffs increase amid an uncertain, seesawing economy. And these communications are no longer the internal affairs they once were. They’re almost certain to be leaked, scrutinized and considered by both your existing staff, job seekers and even potential customers and clients.

The cost of a misstep is high, both in terms of the human cost and the business cost.

Let’s examine some recent layoff statements and learn what we can from the best and the rest.

Robinhood

Robinhood’s CEO and co-founder, Vlad Tenev, took a more employee-focused approach and wrote a blog post explaining the specific departments the layoffs would affect and taking personal responsibility for the over-hiring that led to this moment:

I want to acknowledge how unsettling these types of changes are. We often talk about our mission to democratize finance for all, and one of the most cherished aspects of Robinhood is the teamwork and camaraderie involved in working towards our mission — together. I feel incredibly privileged and fortunate to have the opportunity to build with all of you.

Last year, we staffed many of our operations functions under the assumption that the heightened retail engagement we had been seeing with the stock and crypto markets in the COVID era would persist into 2022. In this new environment, we are operating with more staffing than appropriate. As CEO, I approved and took responsibility for our ambitious staffing trajectory – this is on me.

He also explained the resources that employees would be offered to laid-off workers:

Everyone will receive an email and a Slack message with your status – with resources and support if you are leaving. We’re sending everyone a message immediately after this meeting so you don’t have to wait for clarity. Departing Robinhoodies will be offered the opportunity to remain employed with Robinhood through October 1, 2022 and receive their regular pay and benefits (including equity vesting). They will also be offered cash severance, payment of COBRA medical, dental and vision insurance premiums and job search assistance (including an opt in Robinhood Alumni Talent Directory).

Each impacted Hoodie will be able to schedule time with our people team to discuss their specific situation live. We know that this news is tough for all Robinhoodies, and we are also offering wellness support to those who would like it.

Tenev’s blog post leads with an empathetic expression that reframes a dark chapter in the company’s history as an opportunity to reinforce its culture, values and mission. Tenev’s sense of personal responsibility for the poor decision to over-hire adds a seldom-seen degree of accountability to the message that demonstrates those values.

 

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By going deeper into the logic behind how employees were informed, Tenev also offers a rare insight into how change communications can be shared with wellness front and center that’s worth emulating.

‘The crying CEO’

You’d probably never heard of HyperSocial or its CEO, Braden Wallake, until recently. You still may not know his name. You may instead know him as “the crying CEO” after he posted an emotional selfie to LinkedIn along with a post announcing layoffs.

Wallake tried to react in a human way and took responsibility for this unfortunate outcome — good rules of thumb for any CEO. However, he made the post entirely about him and his feelings, and how the loss of jobs affected him.

Now, to be fair, this is not a traditional job layoff memo. It’s a personal LinkedIn post. Even so, it strikes a discordant note that centers the CEO and relegates those who were laid off to background characters in his own drama. If you’re writing your own reaction to a layoff, but you still have a job, remember that it isn’t about you. Keep the focus on those who are affected.

Wayfair

The layoff letter from the online furniture retailer stands in stark contrast to the previous post from HyperSocial. CEO and Co-founder Niraj Shah’s letter takes responsibility without making it about him and his feelings.

I take responsibility for the impact this decision will have on the nearly 900 Wayfairians who will be told today they are no longer a part of building our company’s future. The individuals being impacted have not only made tremendous contributions to the company as colleagues but have enriched us all as our partners and friends. We’re grateful to have worked alongside them, and we will strongly support our colleagues in their next endeavors.

The memo also clearly lays out who will be affected and exactly what the process will be for those who are being let go, including specific severance details, as well as information about next steps for those who will remain at the company. All of this can help reduce anxiety during the waiting process.

The act of posting the letter on their website in full is also a strong act of transparency. If it’s going to leak anyway, get ahead of it and share your messaging.

Ford

The automaker announced this week that it would lay off about 3,000 people, mostly white-collar workers. Internally, the move was announced in a memo that promptly leaked.

The memo begins by nodding to the brand’s history, dating back to the Model-T before acknowledging that what has guided them in the past no longer delivers needed results.

We committed to sharing information as decisions are made along the way. As we tackle all aspects of costs – from materials to those related to quality – we are informing some Ford teammates this week in the U.S., Canada and at FBS in India, that their positions are being eliminated. Overall, we are reducing our salaried workforce by about 2,000, as well as reducing agency personnel by about 1,000. These actions follow significant restructuring in Ford operations outside of North America over the past couple of years.

The memo succeeds because of its clarity: It explains why costs are being cut, how they’re being cut beyond personnel, and exactly who it will affect.

It also doesn’t lose sight of the human cost, while also explaining how the organization will support those who will no longer have jobs:

None of this changes the fact that this is a difficult and emotional time. The people leaving the company this week are friends and coworkers and we want to thank them for all they have contributed to Ford. We have a duty to care for and support those affected – and we will live up to this duty – providing not only benefits but significant help to find new career opportunities.

It’s a solid mix of business-focused pragmatism and human-centric compassion, which are the most important keys in any layoff communication. Outline action, mourn what’s lost and look to the future.

 

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