Recently, Better.com made headlines for laying off 9% of its workforce over Zoom. It wasn’t the fact that the company fired people that caught the public’s attention, though, it was how Better chose to part ways with employees.
In a clip that has now gone viral on TikTok, CEO Vishal Garg tells the Zoom participants that they are part of the 15% impacted employees at the company who will be let go. While the recording is hard to watch, especially with the holidays approaching, it’s a stark reminder for all people leaders that we will inevitably be faced with hard calls.Unfortunately, parting ways with employees is part of the job and there’s no easy way to do it. But we can, and should, approach these difficult conversations with empathy by putting ourselves in the employees’ shoes.
Here are three things to keep in mind when you’re preparing to deliver bad news:
The employee’s emotions come first.
Losing your job regularly ranks among the top five stressors anyone can experience, alongside death, illness, moving, and divorce. For many people, losing a job triggers economic uncertainty in addition to grief and loss of confidence. Given that, it’s all the more important that you focus on the person receiving the news, not on your own emotions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to be the boss making the call and sharing the news. It’ll be tempting to let them know how much this has kept you up at night. But I promise you, it’s significantly harder for them and so it’s your responsibility to curb your own emotions. Focus on the conversation supporting them and giving them the space they need to take in the information.
You can’t avoid the “why”.
In the Better.com call, the CEO cites efficiency, performance, and productivity as well as a market downturn as reasons behind the massive layoff. I’m a firm believer that people can absorb tough news and calls, but that it’s best to do it with clarity on the driving force behind the decision. Be specific about what’s driving the decision: cash flow, market impact, change of business model, or underperformance. It can’t be all four. Any of those one reasons will be hard for employees to stomach, but they’re fair. If you’re not clear about the ‘why’, you’ll add more confusion and frustration which is a tough combination that can drive even more attrition.
Being human goes a long way.
It is incredibly hard, particularly at scale, to make parting ways feel personal. But how someone leaves a company has a substantial influence on if they would recommend your organization to a friend. Given that, emailing employees from a generic email alias versus having a human being on the other side of the conversation is never a good call.
One CHRO I met with during the pandemic had to do a major layoff, and they worked with managers to ensure that every single employee impacted got a follow up note from their manager. Then, they hosted group question sessions for people to solicit help and advice for navigating next steps. Regardless of size and scope, the more human you can be in your process, the better for everyone involved.
People management and leadership often involves tough calls. It’s incredibly important we don’t skip over the most important aspect of hard conversations: being human. By focusing on the impacted people, providing clear rationale on your approach, and trading generic emails for personal connection, you’re building trust that future, and hopefully former, employees will be grateful for.