A few days ago I heard that Sea, a big e-commerce company, decided on cutting back dozens of jobs and that it’s not the first time this year that they do it. Technology-oriented companies have been laying off employees in large numbers in the last year or so. Witnessing this brought me to think about one of the most hated tasks that managers have to do from time to time - downsizing a bunch of employees at the same time. Letting an employee go isn’t easy for an employer, not to mention for the employee themselves.  Having said that, can group layoffs be done in a better, more sensitive way?

I am Ofir Bar, a veteran investor with a special interest in young startups. It’s no secret that cutbacks in high-tech startups, especially ‘young’ ones, are not rare, so I thought this may be a good topic to write about. There are two variables in the cutback equation: The needs of the company, and the needs of the employees. Let’s see how one can balance between the two in order for both the company and the fired employees to part on good terms, so no one will be harmed more than absolutely necessary.

Fired employees

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Empathy is the key

Raise awareness - First and foremost, way before you start firing employees, you have to inform everyone why you’ve decided to let some people go. Hold a meeting and tell your staff why you decided on taking this step, instead of opting for other cutbacks. Doing this will give your employees some sense of control over what’s happening, even though they don’t really control it: The fact that you tell them all the relevant and important details will help them feel better about the situation. 

Plan ahead - The period of time after a big layoff is usually not easy for a company. When a number of employees are fired, a void is created in the departments in which they worked. After all, they were experienced in what they did and they had a contribution to the organization. You can minimize the effects of this void by training some of the remaining employees to do the tasks of those who will be let go. Since this process always takes time, initiate it as soon as possible. Ideally, this procedure should start as soon as you notify employees of their layoff and end before they actually leave.  

In a macro view, it’s essential that you have a plan for each department for a few months after the big layoff. Expect harsh times for your business. You should be well prepared for it.

Group meeting

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Private meetings - Regardless of how big your company is or how many employees you’ve let go, find the time to have a private meeting with each employee you’ve decided to lay off. Explain why you decided to fire them, and don’t forget to do it in the most emphatic and respectful manner possible. Ask them to tell you about their feelings and thoughts, even if it might be hard for you to hear. 

Group meeting - After the layoffs have been delivered, conduct a group meeting with the remaining employees. Be honest about the status of the company. Explain to them that in the following months, work will be more intense (due to the shortage in manpower, or so) and that they’ll have to put in some more effort during this time period. Also, don’t forget to let them express their emotions. After all, they just lost some of their colleagues. Listen to what they have to say: A better understanding of what’s going on in their minds will help you manage your employees more efficiently.  

Private boss-employee meeting

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The world has changed

Firing employees is never easy for a boss - not as a manager, and not as a person. Many of us are familiar with feeling lost after losing a job - it’s never pleasant. Sadly, these days, layoffs are happening much more than before. While our parents used to work in a single job for their entire working lives, this is not the case in the current era. 

We live in a fast-paced and quick-changing world, and we can’t fight it. That’s one of the reasons we move from job to job every few years. It’s not necessarily bad, but adjusting ourselves to the situation can serve us greatly.