I can’t tell you how many times I've heard HR professionals say, “I never expected my employee to react that way when we had to lay them off”, especially knowing that the company was tanking. Didn’t they know the reduction in force (RIF) was coming?
The reality is you can never predict how someone will react after being told they are going to lose their job, regardless of how many signals they receive prior to the reduction in force (RIF). Assuredly, it’s the element of surprise that can often lead to an emotional reaction and an unhealthy exit—one that can “burn bridges”.
But, is there a better way to mentally prepare employees about RIFs ahead of time? What if employees are warned that layoffs are coming and HR is able to coach employees about internalizing their emotions? How would that change the outcome?
In reality most companies only provide advance notice when required by the law which was mostly driven by the WARN Act that was passed by congress in 1988 that requires organizations to provide employees 60 days advance notification of plant closings, reductions in force, and mass lay-offs. And the reasons are clear--organizations do not want to create distractions and undue stress for their workforce. But, in reality, doesn’t that happen anyway once the word gets out that people are being RIF’d?
If companies can be more transparent about layoffs approaching, then HR can really do some good work to help coach employees to prepare for the notice. This is really healthy for the organization and fosters a culture of trust.
Some of the coaching I’ve facilitated is how to control and recognize emotions that occur from significant life change like losing your job. If you know a layoff is coming, you can begin to think about how you would feel if you were impacted. HR professionals can provide coaching about how employees may want to conduct themselves if they are impacted. The benefit might be an easier conversation during the RIF notification and a better way for the departing employee to exit on a positive note where networks and references are left in a positive place.
I’d be interested in your thoughts and experiences on this topic.