Layoffs are always challenging for companies to navigate effectively and compassionately, particularly during the early stages. Often, organizational leaders are aware that layoffs are impending well before they share that information broadly. While remaining relatively tight-lipped during the evaluation and planning phases makes sense, especially if the scope of the layoff isn’t yet entirely determined, staying silent after the initial details are settled can feel dishonest.
Similarly, challenges arise for professionals who aren’t part of the leadership team who are aware of the upcoming layoffs. They may struggle to determine whether discussing what’s on the horizon with coworkers is a moral imperative or if remaining silent is the better choice.
If you know a layoff is coming soon, here are some insights, tips, and strategies that make it easier to navigate challenging workplace scenarios.
First and foremost, any professional who’s aware of a layoff before it’s broadly announced needs to determine whether they’re in a position that makes maintaining confidentiality a necessity.
Company leaders and many employees could potentially be barred from discussing what they know with anyone who’s not already in the loop, including the rest of the workforce, until a formal announcement of a layoff takes place. As a result, it’s critical to see if there are any contracts or agreements in place that would prevent you from talking about the situation with others, and if there are, there could be stiff consequences for speaking up.
Similarly, it’s wise to consider whether your particular role comes with any implicit confidence that would be violated if you chose to discuss the layoff with others. While the lack of a formal agreement may limit any repercussions, not upholding that trust could still have ramifications. For example, it could harm your professional reputation, and that could make finding a new position later – regardless of whether you’re personally laid off – challenging.
Factor in Morale
Even if you have the right or desire to talk about a layoff that’s not on everyone else’s radar, it’s wise to factor in how the information will impact morale. In many cases, learning that a company is planning to downsize has the potential to create a negative environment. Engagement typically declines, and frustration or fear grows. Rumors may begin circulating, or there could be open hostility between employees and management or between workers who are targeted for the layoff and those who will remain.
If you’re not a member of leadership, then it could create other issues. For example, employees you tell may decide to confront management, and there’s no guarantee those discussions will lead to transparency. Some companies may choose to claim that layoffs aren’t coming – even if they are – if they want to prevent employees from acting differently before they actually make the announcement. Whether they’re believed may vary, but it can easily lead to feelings of distrust if they’re not.
Additionally, a pending layoff may cause some employees to start planning their exits sooner rather than later. While this could have the benefit of reducing the number of workers ultimately laid off, those who can leave the swiftest by finding a new opportunity typically have the most to offer. As a result, the overall strength of various teams could decline dramatically.
However, letting others know as soon as possible gives them a chance to make a plan and leverage the longer timeline to find something new instead of facing a period of unemployment. That’s usually the primary reason for speaking up when news of the layoffs isn’t widespread. It ensures no one is left scrambling, and that’s beneficial. Just be aware that there are consequences for cluing people in, such as those outlined above.
Choose Your Words Wisely
If you decide to tell others about an impending layoff, choose your words wisely. Company leaders usually lack empathy when describing the situation to employees, such as labeling the event as an “operational necessity” or saying it’s what’s “best for the business.” Those approaches come across as uncaring or even callous, and that’s going to damage morale. Instead, leaders should explain what’s happening while expressing genuine compassion. Honesty and straightforwardness need to be balanced with empathy as much as possible, ensuring the situation doesn’t become harder than absolutely necessary.
For other employees, avoiding speculation is crucial. In many cases, non-leadership team members only have limited details, and it’s best not to try to fill in the blanks based on guesses. Instead, if you do speak up, let others know what you’ve learned, and be honest about what you don’t know, ensuring you don’t become part of the rumor mill.