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Contributor: Mike Salveta, Pivotal HR Solutions

It goes without saying that there is nothing positive about layoffs: they are difficult for organizations that are forced to implement them, and even more difficult for affected employees who are not just poised to lose their professional identity and full income (though hopefully not for long), but will also be leaving behind friends who they may have worked with for years.

To mitigate the damage that is invariably caused by layoffs, here are seven best practices that organizations are urged to follow:

  1. Do not use layoffs as a delay tactic for termination. Organizations are legally obligated per the Employment Standards Act to have a realistic expectation and authentic desire to recall affected employees at a later date.
  1. Transparently explain to affected employees why a layoff is necessary (e.g. failed expansion, loss of a major customer, the shutdown of a product line, etc.). They will not like the decision, but ideally, they will understand it.  With this being said, do not get pulled into a discussion about why some employees were laid off and some weren’t, and do not discuss any information that may be confidential, such as the results of performance reviews or salary figures.
  1. Do not expect employees to be relieved or grateful for being laid off vs. terminated. Asking employees to “think positive” or telling them to “look on the bright side” may be done with good intentions, but the impact can be quite negative.
  1. Even if rumors of layoffs have been swirling for weeks or even months, there is a core difference between anticipating job loss and actually losing one’s job (temporarily or otherwise). As such, it allows employees the right to react to this painful news. If they need some time to collect their emotions, gather their thoughts, and possibly make a call to a family member or friend, then allow them to do so.  
  1. Be compassionate, and treat affected employees with respect and dignity. As noted in #4, allow them the right to be hurt, upset, and angry (though of course not abusive or violent). The last thing that organizations want is to eventually recall a formerly laid-off employee who is bitter and resentful, and basically hates their employer.
  1. Help affected employees navigate the Employment Insurance process. Don’t just send them to Service Canada with their Record of Employment. Schedule a time to sit down to answer questions about the process, and if desired help them submit their application online.
  1. Do not neglect the practical and psychological needs of employees who are not laid off. In addition to shouldering a bigger workload and missing their ex-colleagues, they may also experience “survivor guilt,” and start to worry if their job will the next to go. Organizations should lean forward to provide support, but not make any false promises.

Whether due to restructuring, downsizing, amalgamation, severe cost burden, prolonged decline in revenues, or any other legitimate factor, layoffs are an unfortunate — but at times, necessary — contingency that organizations must use in order to remain competitive and stay afloat. Relying on the best practices described above can help mitigate the damage and suffering for all involved.