As a people manager, I understood the fundamental principle that I was no longer an independent contributor. I had a team that I was responsible for, who looked to me for guidance. So when my company went through a steady stream of layoff’s, I remember thinking about my team and how best I would handle their concerns. Regardless of whether your direct reports are directly impacted, meaning that they will be laid off or indirectly impacted, being that someone they know or work with will be laid off – as a manager, it is your job to manage the situation.
Inevitably, if you’ve established trust amongst your team, your people will come to you asking, “What’s going on?”, “Am I safe from layoff?”, “What’s going to happen to our team?” How you choose to answer these questions will set the stage for the type of manager that you want to be.
1. Be Honest.
Sitting in a conference room with 11 eyeballs and a few more sets of ears on the phone waiting for me to answer the outstanding question, tested me in my role as a people manager. “Are there layoffs happening and if so, when?” I knew by the way that the question was asked that they anticipated a lie to tumble into the dense air.
The quickest way to lose respect from your people is to lie to them. At the end of the day, people are feeding their carnal concern of whether they will be able to survive and provide. Lying only prolongs the inevitable and provides another reason for your talent to look for other roles.
At the time, I received permission to confirm that the layoffs were indeed taking place but was told that the date was not to be communicated. When I was asked the question, I confirmed what my team already knew, that layoffs were indeed happening. Regarding the date, I informed them that although I knew the date, I was unable to tell them. I apologized for not being able to give any more information but when I could, I would share. Although they wanted a date, they respected my honesty as their manager.
2. Treat them like adults.
For weeks prior to my potential layoff, I was concerned about whether I would be laid off. The same questions that plagued my direct reports, plagued me when they I faced this dilemma. I wanted to know as much information as possible so that I could prepare for the worst. I was told absolutely nothing however, my workload substantially decreased over time. I went from being overwhelmed to having time to write my blog. I would ask, “Am I being impacted?” and I would get the same response, “No, not at this time.” I knew they were not being honest and it insulted me.
When you treat your people like adults, they will in return act accordingly. Be as upfront and as honest as possible. You may not be able to directly tell them that they are impacted but generalize the concern and advise your team to update their resumes. If they need resume assistance, offer to help or point them in the right direction. This prepares all impacted employees, regardless of whether it’s a direct impact or an indirect impact, for whats to come.
If you are able to tell them, do so. Advocate doing so. I had a boss who was laid off and he was told five months in advance of the action. He told me that this was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He was able to prepare himself and his family for the inevitable, take steps to establish his next career move, and come to peace with his double digit tenure at the company. Instead of being upset with being laid off, he was thankful and he gave 100% of his effort until his last day.
3. Show empathy.
Take a moment and imagine being in their shoes. Maybe you were on the other side of the table, digesting that there was a chance that you would be laid off. How did you feel? What thoughts ran through your mind? What was the first thing you wanted to do? If you’ve never been in the situation, try and read the stories of others before you have the conversation with your direct reports. Imagine not knowing when you will receive another paycheck and the domino effect that that would have in your life.
Showing empathy is something that a lot of people talk about but have a hard time doing. Being able to recognize the feelings of others, communicate understanding and have a genuine concern for them as a human beings can be a bit difficult when you are under a lot of stress as well. Be sure to practice empathy on a daily basis to avoid trying to fake it during the time when you will need to show it the most. You owe it to your team to empathize with the situation.