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5 keys to approaching layoffs so your employees want to return

In these uncertain times, you’re no doubt concerned about potentially having to lay off staff members, or perhaps you’ve already had to, due to government regulations on essential businesses during COVID-19 shutdowns or because of the associated economic pressures.

The saying goes that it’s not personal, it’s business. And that is, in part, true. But it’s also true that you likely care about your team, and that you’re laying off people you like and who do good work for your company.

When the current crisis eases, being able to rehire those hard workers will be critical. Not only do you care about those people, but it will be easier to ramp up business with employees who already know the company and the job.

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Here are a few strategies to help maintain your relationship with laid-off employees and ensure the bridge between the company and them doesn’t go away.

1. Be transparent with employees

Getting laid off is no fun, but it’s easier to take if it’s more expected. Be up front with employees as you’re navigating these times—about what prolonged economic difficulties might mean for the future. In addition, the more you can communicate the realities, the more your team will understand what a difficult situation you’re in and that you’re doing your best to save the company and as many jobs as possible.

2. Lead with empathy

No matter the circumstances, no matter how expected, losing a job is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Take that into consideration with each step you take. Put yourself in their shoes and consider their feelings.

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3. Deliver the news in a respectful way

No employee should be laid off in an impersonal manner, such as via text or Meet with them face-to-face, or via video calls if face-to-face meetings still aren’t allowed. It may not be feasible to do all layoffs individually, but the delivery of this message will be a huge driving force in their decision to return to work for you.

No matter what, the conversation should come from the manager or leadership, not HR. Once the news is delivered, then HR can take over. If small team video calls are being used, you can then transition into an organization-wide webinar from HR to provide logistical information and answer questions. Afterward, HR should send a follow-up email outlining all details and sharing how employees can get their questions answered.

For those employees you definitely want to woo back, give them the white-glove treatment and a highly personalized approach. Make sure they understand that it is purely an economic decision and one that you’d hoped to avoid.

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4. Communicate well

Be prepared to answer their questions, and provide them with resources, such as what benefits they can leverage from the federal stimulus package above and beyond the norm to make up more of the income they’ve lost.

And remember that words matter—phrasing things poorly can do more harm than good. Consider hiring a freelance PR pro who can help with wordsmithing to make sure you don’t accidentally sound insensitive or out of touch.

5. Lay the groundwork

Acknowledge that these are tough times and the situation just plain stinks—and that you don’t want to lose them. Tell them that you want and hope to have them back on board when circumstances change.

Also, know that they may not react well. They may cry; they may be mad. But it is likely in the moment and doesn’t reflect their longterm feelings. So try to distance yourself from those responses and give them some space and some grace.

How you handle layoffs—before, during, and after—can make a difference in the lasting impression you leave with departing employees. Build, rather than burn, bridges as much as possible, and hopefully before too long you can bring valued former team members back on board.

Rikka Brandon, a recruiter in the LBM industry since 2001, is a building products recruiter with Building Gurus. Reach her at

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