Layoffs: Communicating tough messages with empathy

Layoffs are never easy for anyone involved. Here are some best practices leaders can use to communicate the necessary changes with compassion.


David Levanon




David Levanon

5 minutes

January has been a tough month for big tech. 

As companies prepare for a looming recession, announcements of massive layoffs have gained momentum. The growing list includes Salesforce, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Microsoft, and Spotify. 

In addition to creating uncertainty among workers, these announcements have raised questions about how companies should communicate widespread layoffs to their employees.

So much so that the headlines aren’t just about who is laying off employees, but how they are doing it. Take, for example, The Journal podcast episode, “The New Layoff: On a Wednesday On Zoom” and the Harvard Business Review article, “What Companies Still Get Wrong About Layoffs.” 

Layoffs are never easy for anyone involved. 

While the decision to lay people off may be “strictly business,” it can still be devastating to hear if you’re on the receiving end. Here are some best practices leaders can use to communicate layoffs that will help minimize the negative impact on your employees and maintain trust in your organization.

1. Be respectful

Most importantly, treat your impacted employees with respect and compassion. Use language and messaging that shows you understand how difficult this moment is and continue to show appreciation for the people being laid off. Showing empathy and understanding also helps maintain trust and respect in the organization with the remaining employees.

2. Plan ahead

Prepare those in your organization who have to deliver the tough news. Your frontline managers may need additional training or tools, like a script, if they’ve never had to perform a role like this before. For security purposes, you should also inform your IT lead of the upcoming staff changes ahead of time.

3. Communicate early

Communicating layoffs as early as possible is best, giving employees time to process the news and prepare for their next steps. This also helps to avoid rumors and speculation, which only cause additional stress for everyone.

4. Be open and honest

It’s crucial to be transparent and honest about the reasons for the layoffs and the process that was followed to make the decision. This will help alleviate any concerns your employees may have about the fairness of the process. Make yourself available to answer questions or hold regular Q&A sessions for the entire organization following the announcement.

5. Provide support

After layoffs have been announced, it’s important to follow up with affected employees to ensure that they have the support they need. This can include resources for job searching, providing references, financial assistance, counseling services, and more.

Let’s face it—layoffs are painful. But with transparency, honesty, respect, and empathy, leaders can communicate the necessary changes with compassion to mitigate the risk of any negative impacts that could affect employee morale, or the organization’s reputation and bottom line.