Look, it’s never easy to break the news to your staff that your company is downsizing. Regardless of the reason, layoffs or reductions in force (RIFs) are tough meetings to hold and even tougher to keep in check, which is why using a simple, streamlined layoff script is extremely important.
Before we jump in, why a layoff script? Shouldn’t delicate matters like this be handled with a personal touch?
Not really, to be honest. A meeting this sensitive needs to hit specific talking points despite all of the feelings and emotions that swirl inside them. That doesn’t mean you need to turn into a robot. You just need to stay on point or the meeting can fall off the rails.
Think about it: livelihoods and reputations are on the line here. Having a layoff script - and understanding how to layoff employees in general - allows you to focus on what needs to be said and how to deliver the news properly while also leaving time for your employee to grasp what’s happening emotionally.
So, to help with this delicate task, here is a brief format to create a personalized layoff script that you can use to make sure you know what to say during a layoff. You can also download a version of this layoff script by clicking the button below.
Let's get definitions out of the way first:
A layoff script is a pre-written document that an HR manager can follow during the notification meeting that will keep the meeting on track to hit specific talking points such as when the employee's last day of work will be, what their severance package includes, and what benefits they will receive all while giving respect to the affected staff member.
Now that that is out of the way, let's dig into the individual parts:
Part One - The Meeting Starts
The focus of this section is how to deliver the bad news.
Get to the point. Have your HR manager state what is happening and why as soon as possible. Don’t get into small talk about baseball games or the weather. This is a tough meeting and no amount of ‘warming up’ will make it any easier on you or your employee. In fact, it might make it even harder to deliver.
Here’s an example of what you can include in your own layoff script:
HR Manager: “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.”
One of the main things to hit in this dialogue is the reason why the position has been eliminated. Put yourself in the employee’s position. What’s the first question you’d have? It’s, “why?” followed, most likely, by “what did I do?” It’s important to explain the reason in detail to minimize these hard-to-swallow thoughts.
Don’t take our word for it, either. Researchers from Columbia University found that departing employees took the news better when the reason was explained clearly. The full details of the study can be read here.
Part Two - The Middle
There are two stages to the middle of the meeting. We know that sounds like quite a bit, but hear us out because this is arguably the toughest part.
The first stage focuses on listening.
Yes, even though we said earlier that it’s important to stay on track and cut as much small talk as possible, it’s vital to give your exiting employee the time to respond to the news.
Make sure you note this in your layoff script so you don’t steamroll through the entire meeting leaving your now former employee in shock.
This means letting your employee vent (within reason, of course) and say what they need to say. Don’t interrupt them if you can. This section obviously changes based on the person you’re letting go. Some will want to speak while others will try to get out of there as fast as possible, which is understandable.
Next, your HR manager should step in and guide the meeting to outplacement services and severance packages. A layoff script is a good thing to have on hand for this transition because - regardless of how the employee reacts - you need a way to keep pushing forward no matter what. Having something written down or rehearsed helps you hit these reduction in force talking points at the appropriate times.
Outplacement and Severance Agreements
Any severance agreement worth its salt should come with an outplacement package. Here is a list of things you should look for in a provider.
Why is this important? Well, like severance pay, outplacement shows that your company cares about where the displaced staff member will end up. You’re don’t want to throw them out on the street.
They gave a large portion of time and energy to your business and now, more than ever, is a good time to show your support for their future. Not only does this help out your staff incredibly and make the task of letting them go easier, it also keeps your reputation intact.
Here’s an example of how this section can go in your layoff script:
HR Manager: “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.”
Once that is over with, note in your layoff script to reiterate the outplacement services and other benefits that the outgoing employee will receive, such as their 401K, pensions, and stock options. This reaffirms that you want to help them through this troubling time.
Part Three - Transition of Power
At this stage in your layoff script, you and your HR manager need to figure out how to transition the outgoing employee’s workload. This usually involves making an agreement for them to finish their tasks and projects or finding out if your current team can absorb the loss, communicating layoffs to remaining staff will smooth this part over.
If you treat your employee with the respect they deserve, following the steps above, the transition of work should go over without a hitch. Pre-planning for the workload shift is definitely a good idea, too.
Part Four - The Exit
Once all of the above is said, note in your layoff script to collect any belongings that are company property, such as badges and keys.
This stage sounds simple, but it’s really based off how the employee is handling the news. It’s common advice not to let the employee back to their desks, mainly because emotions are high, it's awkward for everyone involved, and, of course, it’s good to protect company property. (Note: This stage is heavily based on your company’s culture. You want to do the most respectable thing possible.)
Bonus Tip: If there is a large scale layoff, it’s a good idea to have support, such as outplacement services or an employee assistance program (EPA), on hand to help outgoing employees emotionally cope and move on efficiently.
If you have a solid job elimination script and these supportive systems in place, this unfortunate meeting will be a lot easier to handle and execute. It’s important to note, though, that a layoff script isn’t one size fits all.
Using the rules above, you can craft a meaning, easy-to-follow document to deliver the news effectively and tactfully, leaving you and your outgoing employee on the best terms possible.