Downsizing, layoffs, and reductions in force (RIF) are tough for everyone involved. Being prepared is so important. There's a lot on the line here. Thus, using a layoff script is of the utmost importance.
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Feelings, emotions, reputations, and livelihoods should all be treated with respect. Thinking back to meeting planning 101, this meeting should have structure, including a beginning, middle and end. A typical layoff meeting should have a manager and a HR representative present. Below is a simple layoff script for a RIF or layoff notification meeting.
The Beginning – the reason should be delivered by the Manager
Get straight to the point with the reason. This can feel abrupt, but you're doing no one any favors by circling around a point for an hour. Avoid small talk during the meeting. (Make notes of both these things in your layoff script.) You want to get right to the notification immediately in the layoff script and state the reason. For example, “As announced in late August, the division is adjusting our overall operation costs in response to the weakening demand for specialty products and this includes reducing staffing levels. As a result, a number of positions at this facility are being eliminated and your position is one being affected.”
The Middle- listening for reactions
While you are communicating the decision and the reason for the decision, it is critical that you take the time to wait for and listen to the reactions of the employee, and to respond to those reactions and questions appropriately. Make sure to notate this in the layoff script. Don't interrupt, you really just want to listen and sometimes let the employee vent. They might have to take a load off their chest, or they might want to get out of the meeting as soon as possible with few words to exchange. At some point HR will step in and transition the meeting to reviewing the severance agreement and outplacement services being offered. Having HR step in should be a standard in any layoff script your organization uses.
The Middle- presenting the Severance Agreement and Outplacement Services
HR in most cases will review the high points of the severance agreement and outplacement services being offered to the employee. Any good severance agreement will include outplacement to help the employee transition. This sends a message to the employee that you care about how they land.
A typical layoff script for this section is “We prepared a Severance Agreement for you to review, which will explain the benefits being extended to you. (Review the key points of the agreement) Your last day physically at work will be October 10. Your last day of employment will be January 8. You have 45 days to decide if you want to sign. If you choose to sign the severance agreement, you will be placed on a paid leave of absence for a period of 90 days. After the 90 days, you will receive severance pay according to the company severance schedule based on your years of service. You are also eligible for outplacement assistance that will begin immediately. Normal tax withholding will be done for the severance pay to insure compliance with federal and state laws. We recommend you share the agreement with an attorney before signing as it is a legal document.”
You should also review the outplacement program that your particular outplacement provider offers. This will again reiterate that you are helping them transition, which is important. Review other benefits that may apply such as when severance will be paid, medical, 401K, pensions, stock options, etc. All of these various moving parts of the severance agreement should also be apart the layoff script.
The End- transition of work
Here the manager will take the discussion back to understand what work is critical they need to be aware of. Include this in the layoff script to ensure that the flow of work is not impacted. Plans should usually be made to complete the employee’s current workload as well as any unfinished projects they are involved in. If you treat the employee with respect, they will usually in turn give you the courtesy of making sure all of the work will transition smoothly.
The End- the exit from Human Resources
At this time in the layoff script, collect their badge, company keys, and any other company property they may have with them at this time. Also review the process for removal of personal property. It is recommended not to let the employee walk back to their desk, but if it is necessary, consider having HR or the supervisor escort them back. You should allow what you feel would be respectful as part of your company culture.
For large scale layoffs, consider having EAP and/or outplacement on site to help support emotions and career transition questions. Outplacement reps often time can help with the emotional support as well as help answer questions related to career transition, and assist in modifying your layoff script.
This is never an easy meeting to hold, but this simple layoff script for a RIF or layoff notification meeting should prepare you for a smooth and professional delivery.