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How to gracefully conduct layoffs during COVID-19

How to gracefully conduct layoffs during COVID-19

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. | AFP via Getty Images/OLIVIER DOULIERY

More than 26 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks. In addition, the unemployment rate is projected to rapidly increase due to the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. I interviewed Chantel McHenry, Senior Manager of Operations at Vanderbloemen, on how businesses can lovingly restructure and lay off staff during COVID-19. Chantel shared tangible, quick tips to manage this challenging situation. 

Pray. Begin by praying for guidance and wisdom on when and how layoffs need to take place. God's hands are the safest place to entrust such large decisions.

Prepare the necessary paperwork. This includes layoff and furlough letters, as well as talking points for those conducting the meetings to ensure consistency across the board.

Meet with your entire staff. Be honest and loving as you discuss the financial situation of your organization and explain the facts and reasoning behind layoffs and furloughs for the company. Also, take the time to talk about your next steps so everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect after the staff meeting. Be honest about what's to come, but be careful not to make lofty promises since this is such an uncertain time.

  • This should be a video-conference meeting rather than a phone call. Reading body language during tough discussions help employees feel greater trust and connection.

Meet with your staff one-on-one. Use this time to present the news and communicate that they are being laid-off or furloughed.

  • Include a third-party member from the leadership team, like your HR professional, in the meeting to assist with the conversation. This provides support to you as the leader, and to the employee receiving the news.

Provide instructions and resources. Clearly communicate the effective date of the layoff or furlough, details of medical insurance and other benefits, and when they can expect their last paycheck. If you have information on how they can apply for unemployment or other funding while transitioning to a new job, be sure to communicate those details.

Collect property owned by the organization. These details should be covered in the paperwork you’ve prepared and discussed in the one-on-one meetings as well.

  • Include the days and times of when someone will be available at the office for them to return their items and pack their belongings in the office. Make a full list for them to walk through to take the work off them in this stressful time.

Pray and encourage the employee. Remind them that God hasn’t forgotten them and that he still has a plan for them to prosper. Be honest with them about their positive performance while working for you to encourage them as they apply for new jobs. Offer to be a resource for them as they apply to new jobs.

Give yourself and staff time to process and pray. Wait at least a day before you gather again with the remaining staff in an all-staff meeting.

Meet with the remaining staff members. Use this meeting to cast vision and encourage your team to reach out and check on those who are no longer with the company.

It is always challenging for leaders to implement layoffs and furloughs, especially during a global crisis when it cannot be done face to face. We are praying for all leaders who have to walk through this tough season during COVID-19. For more tips from Chantel, see this blog article on HR Best Practices in a Crisis.

Holly Tate is the vice president of Business Development at Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.

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