Layoffs are trickling down to all industries, as we can see the trend started in the hospitality and travel industry and now has moved to recruitment and banking services. According to a report by ILO, there will be more than 195 million job losses due to Covid-19 globally. Sharp layoffs have already been felt by workers in four sectors, such as food and accommodations (144 million employees), retail and wholesale (482 million), business services and administration (157 million), as well as manufacturing (463 million).
Massive layoffs do not only affect workers. Apparently, business leaders are also experiencing stress and sadness of having to let go of a large number of their workers. Grunberg et al. study showed that managers involved with layoffs at one large company were more prone than other executives to have sleep problems, ulcers, headaches, and even heart trouble up to three years after the layoffs. In the study, managers had mostly regained emotional health up to six years after the layoffs, nonetheless, they were still more likely than other bosses to have stress-related health problems, such as ulcers and heart trouble.
Laying off employees will be both emotionally and cognitively overwhelming for managers, said Joshua Margolis, Harvard Business School professor. Managers will not only deal with dismissing a wide swath of employees, but they might also be worried about the uncertainty that goes to employees’ mind. That said, managers might have a dilemma between their responsibility to save the company and the responsibility to be good and compassionate leaders.
Business Executive Atta Tarki told HBR that layoff is understandable during a crisis but it is not a periodic recession. Instead, the Covid-19 pandemic could be a pivotal way for companies to rethink their strategy and only put layoff as the last option. Tarki suggested doing crowdsourcing with employees and reviewing other options that are available than layoffs to help the business stay afloat while securing employees in this unprecedented time.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower also urged employers to consider alternatives to retrenchment to help businesses viable and support employees during the economic downturn. According to MOM, employers can consider training, redeployment, flexible work schedule, shorter work week and temporary layoff. Employers can also support staff who have a second job due to Covid-19.
If managers and line executives decide that layoffs are necessary, nevertheless, do the best to avoid multiple rounds of cuts. Managers should avoid or at least minimise the negative effect of layoffs on both employees and himself. Therefore, treating this cut with consideration and compassion is advisable. Here are Kenneth W. Freeman’s ways to manage layoffs with compassion.
Figure out how and when you will deliver the news to your employees on an individual basis and what your message will consist of. Your employees are likely to have a lot of questions about the benefits and severance they will receive. Employees might also question their last paycheck and what happens to their retirement package. Therefore, consulting to HR before the discussion with your employees is a must, hence, you can give the correct information and answer every doubt your employee has.
Layoffs during the outbreak might pose a challenge for you due to social distancing instruction. Managers should make the conversation confidential. As cyberthreat is increasing during the coronavirus crisis and conducting in-person meetings would feel less secure, managers should ask for employees’ time where they can spend a few minutes to talk without interruption.
You will likely deliver the message remotely, thus, it is highly important to break the news with empathy and compassion. Your main goal is to treat people fairly, with dignity and respect despite the meeting barrier. Ideally, you should make the conversation via a video link so you can make an eye-contact, be fully present, and listen.
Make sure your message is concise, clear, and unequivocal without too many small talks. Being direct can seem cold but it allows the other person to process what you are saying earlier. Delivering your intention sooner can also help them to be direct with their feeling of uncertainty.
During the conversation, you should not just tell and hang up. Make sure you point out that it is not about their performance and it is not their fault, but the unexpected global circumstances. As a good manager, you should also assist and be there when your employees process the information and emphasise that you and other team care.
The least you can do as a manager is to assist and offer help whenever possible. Ask your employees what they need and how you can help during the situation. But be sure to not overpromise and be clear with your intention of offering help.
Delivering the news is nerve-wracking and difficult. Therefore, it is important for you to be compassionate with yourself too, not just with your employees. Maintain self-care, such as eat healthy food, meditate, read a good book, and exercise. You are not the only manager who goes through these difficult decisions. There are a lot of supervisors who are going through the same situation.