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reductions in force

In This Episode

  • With Reductions in Force (RIFs or layoffs) likely coming for most companies, a quick overview for HR to prepare for what’s aheads.
  • Why focusing on the employee experience for your RIF during an uncertain time is more critical than ever.
  • Three suggestions on how to prevent a RIF if at all possible.
  • Four things NOT to do – or you will jeopardize the future success of your company.
  • Three strategies to help you plan a layoff that’s effective and shows empathy.

How we approach and deliver messages during a RIF, especially during an uncertain time like we’re in right now, has a big impact for your company, your employees (impacted and not), and your career.

This is a special  episode of the Rethink HR podcast because where we are right now, is uncertain. And the work that HR is being asked to do, has dramatically changed overnight. After chatting with so many of my friends in HR and my community, this episode is all about instantly actionable things HR can do to help calm panic, refocus efforts, ensure that the focus remains on the right things, and we keep our sanity!


We'll leave a long wake for each employee, your company and you more so than any other riff that you've been a part of in the past, please consider what the experience should be like. Before we dive into it. I'm Melissa Anzman, HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide and I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun. Fast forward past many failed tactics and lessons learned and you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters, work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step-by-step strategies to help you make an impact.

If you're an HR leader or one on the rise who's looking to stop spinning your wheels doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results or you want to have a career, you love your in the right place. Let's get started. Today we're going to talk about the reality of something that a lot of HR departments are going through right now and maybe for employees. Give you a little peek behind the scenes of what is a riff. Now our riff stands for a reduction in force. Most of us know these as layoffs, so we're going to talk about layoffs from the HR perspective and where we are right now. So yes, there are so many companies that are in a financial free fall have a bunch of concern and there is that immediate thought need. Only option right now is to do a layoff. So with this knowing this, knowing that a roof is coming for most companies, maybe not now, maybe in a couple months, but this virus combined with the economic free fall has really impacted our businesses and our way of work that most companies are thinking about or looking into a riff and no one, no company, no one in HR in particular likes to do this.

And I can promise you this, from personal experience, having laid off over a thousand employees throughout my HR career, it is not a fun thing to do. Now here's the thing, it may be necessary. So I want you, if you are asked to do a riff, if you've got the signal that it is time to do some layoffs first, I just want you to double check that it's actually necessary. Is this the only path forward and in HR, do you even have any influence here? Often HR is told that there's going to be a layoff event versus having us at the table as part of the strategic planning, how to manage our workforce, the cashflow and options that may be available at that time. So if you're brought in early and you do have some influence, I want you to consider to ask the following. The first is, is there a way to redeploy our current resources to support other areas of our business?

This could be a temporary thing, this could be a rotational opportunity or it can be a permanent transfer. But the thought here is if we have key talent, if we have high number of impact employees, is there a way that we can redeploy him to other areas of our workforce that are needed? So for example, if you have a manufacturing floor and you are now needing to go to a full 24 hour floor and you don't have the employees to do that, but you have employees impacted, is there a way that we can transfer some of those employees who work at desk positions that are going way into the manufacturing floor? I don't know, but it's something to consider. Is there a place to redeploy them? Maybe it's a different situation or workplace like we just talked about with the manufacturing floor. Maybe it's a different skill set department, et cetera.

But really look at your redeployment options first. The second question is, is there a local company who needs workers right now that you can team up with and do some sort of employee lending program with? Now you'll have to work out the how like the details of how it works, but essentially there are a lot of companies locally that are hiring things like grocery stores, um, in particular and maybe it's door dash, whatever it is. There are places that are hiring locally. So is there a company that you can partner up with as the HR person and say, listen, we have a really great depth of talent in these areas. Can we put them on loan to you? It could be that they become contractors. It could be that they go and work for that company for three months and you check back in and then they have the option of returning.

But whatever that is really look locally to see if there's a way that you can do some sort of lending program with your employees to help them have some income and work while your company doesn't have the resources to pay them. And the third question ask is what is the true cost of our employees being impacted now versus staying at a reduced work schedule? So I want you to consider this. If you work at a company that has a nice and robust riff payout and programs like extensive outplacement services, when you combine that with things like unemployment costs, does it actually make sense to have a riff now versus considering a little bit more and doing it later after let's say the coronavirus situation is under control. Really think through, are you going to need those employees over the next six months? Are you going to need them if, if business goes back to a new normal, what is that cost perspective there?

Because when we lay off employees, and this is important for employees to understand, I know UNHR understand, but employees don't understand that when they are laid off it cost the company money. It's not like you're laid off and then that's it. You're cut off and no more money goes out the window. It actually costs the employee or the company a lot of money to impact employees. Obviously the preference would be to not do that and obviously it costs more to keep employees on longer term, but it's not just a, you know, once it's a riff, it's over. There's unemployment insurance costs, there's severance costs, there's outplacement costs just to name a few and then let's say we have to hire people on. There's a whole onboarding and training costs involved, so really think through the total cost impact versus being a little bit more creative with things like working schedules instead of 40 hour weeks.

Can we bring some employees down to 30 hour weeks or maybe it is a part time schedule. Really be curious about the opportunities there and how flexible and agile your company can be to save costs once you actually do the math. So most of us don't have a lot of opportunity to be at the table and ask those questions. Of course, in an ideal world, we'll be there because we've been working hard to get that seat at the table that we're don't really know what to do with. But if we're not in that position, which most is most of us find ourselves in and you are handed the layoff order, it is critically important that we do this right. First, I want you to know that you are not alone. You have a community of other HR professionals who are going through the same exact thing with you right now.

They're a lot of people who've been in your position in the past and there will be people in your position in the future. So remember to lean on your HR colleagues and your support network. This is not an easy thing for us to do, so we need to consider the employee experience right now. I know that I am asking you I big ask because the last thing you want to do is take a pause and consider something like the employee experience, which still may be this nebulous thing you aren't that into, but it's really critical that we do because with this pause, we're able to actually shape this one event, this riff. We'll leave a long wake for each employee, your company and you more so than any other riff that you've been a part of in the past. Please consider what the experience should be like before we dive into it.

We're not going to rush into it. We're not going to throw caution to the wind and treat our employees with disrespect. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen that in the past few weeks. It is incredibly disheartening and it is going to ruin the future prospects of that company's success once things get back to a new normal and we're back to work again. The hard truth is you may be one of the employees that are impacted at some point. So I really want you to consider how you would want the experience to be before you agree or deciding on a path forward. So we're not just taking our riff orders and saying, yep, no problem. I understand. I'm going to execute it. We are going to take a pause. We're going to really consider the experience as a whole and we're going to make sure that we don't do the following things.

And then I'm going to help you walk through what we should be thinking through to create a better experience during a riff. So before those details, I want to talk about the things you shouldn't do. And these are things that I am seeing right now that are going to greatly harm your company, your employees, and your career. So the first, do not have a mass conference call or video call with all your impacted employees. Hearing the message at the same time or worse, have them call into our prerecorded message. Stop this. This is completely inappropriate. It's not fair. It's not decent is completely not the right thing to do. There are several examples floating around out there, but one that comes to mind is ZipRecruiter, so I'm going to revisit this example in a minute, so hang tight, but just know if your company's plan for your riff is to have all impact employees.

Hop on a call with your CEO to hear the news at the same time. You need to jump in immediately and tell them no, it is completely inappropriate and it's not what we in HR are here to do or support. The second thing we shouldn't do is treat this situation like every other riff situations. I mentioned that I've laid off a lot of people. That means I've been part of a lot of rough situations. I'm not bragging about it. That's definitely not something that I want to be remembered for so to speak, but it is the truth. Rifts are usually planned well in advanced based on things like forecasted numbers, outsourcing, moving jobs into different areas. Maybe part of a company spun out or other things that the business can see coming. This is not type of event. This event needs to have more empathy and compassion when you move through the ref.

Not only are we moving a lot faster with a lot less uncertainty than most refs, but no one saw this coming and you know I'm not the person who hands out advice to have empathy and compassion lightly, but in this case it is completely true because unlike a planned event where perhaps you've been holding onto your performance issues or non-productive employees or you haven't been performance managing or coaching and hoping for success because he had nowhere riff is coming, this is more sweeping, you're likely going to have key talent impacted and more importantly, this situation is not a single employee's fault. They haven't been under-performers. They haven't sort of been at the low end of the list. When we look at factors of performance or production or what have you, it's not their fault. We just know we need to decrease the number that we're paying out and say, I really want you to remember that because sometimes we can get a little dated in HR when we're doing riffs B, when we see managers holding on to under-performers because they want to use that headcount in a future ref.

This is not the case. This is not the employee's fault and this isn't something that we have planned for so we need to have a lot more empathy and compassion. The next thing we're not going to do is create our RIF list Willy nilly, not following any type of process that we have in place or just sort of picking people or groups by random. You have to create a process that you can stand behind and yes, I know it's an unusual situation and it feels like a fire drill but we still need to step into the and be the voice of reason so that we're being consistent and fair when we're evaluating the impacted employees roles and departments. We are not going to let this be a Willy nilly list gathering and the final thing we shouldn't do is using these UNSW usual circumstances to back out of our obligations to our employees.

I have seen this, unfortunately I have before, but some companies see a ref or a time like this as a chance to decrease severance payouts and support provided or worse, make employees and eligible for unemployment by either keeping them on the books at zero hours or some other sliding through this system behind the doors way do not be that company. It is not going to when you in the short and particularly their long run, this is dramatically unfair and will also be extremely difficult for everyone at your company to come back from once the economy is up and running. Trust me, people do not want to work at companies who treat their employees this way is specially in a time of uncertainty like we are in right now, so do not look at this opportunity as a chance to say, you know what? We just can't afford to pay severance.

You made a commitment to your employees. You had a set of resources available to them. You have to do everything in your power to honor your word. So those are four things that we are not going to do. Even though I have seen it happen in the last few weeks, we're not going to be that company. We're going to be more strategic HR partners and do everything we can to have the riff be less dramatic than it could be like those examples. So here are some things that we're going to do to have it be successful. And there are three things. The first thing we're going to do is we are going to plan and map out our riff approach. So what I want you to do for this is create your communication map for your different populations. So for most companies, these, there's about four populations. You're going to break him down into employees who are impacted, employees who are remaining leaders, and then HR.

So whatever those audiences are for your company, make sure you define them. And then you want to do a communications map for them. And that map is essentially you walking through your plan of what you're going to communicate, who is going to be delivering the message, how it will be communicated, and then how it looks like from start to finish. So I'm going to use an example here so you can see what I am talking about a little bit better. Let's say we wanted to use the example of our impacted employing employees as our audience. So we want to clearly define how we're going to let them know. So that definition would be by their manager on a direct one to one video call or telephone call with HR providing support and materials either before, during, or after the call. So let's be super clear here.

That example I mentioned above with the ZipRecruiter, have them all happen on a call with a CEO who was on video but wanted to tell everybody on that call at the same time that they were all impacted. We're not going to do that. That's not the right flow approach. What we're gonna do is treat this like a normal human company interaction. So we're talking to humans and we are going to do a one-on-one notification. Usually my recommendation is that the manager does that, or at a minimum, the managers should be a part of the conversation with HR there, but we are not doing mass notifications. They are people. We are people. We have one on one conversations. This is tough news. This is devastating news for most of our employees. We have to really be considerate of that and give them the respect that they deserve.

So back to the plan. So we're going to have this one on one call and then after all of those notification calls or videos have been made, then there will be an entire company, town hall where the CEO is going to deliver the business impact those numbers and the news. And here's the thing we can, we don't want to make it a somber event. We don't want it to be overly excited either. It sucks, but we're going to be honest and transparent and really tell the truth and have our entire employee population understand what's going on. And here's a little tip here. Before you close the call, do something to really recognize those employees who are outgoing. Do a clap out and or cheers. Take a minute to thank everybody and have it be a big part of this conversation. You are going to have your CEO or whomever that person is deliver tough news and at the end you are going to acknowledge how hard it is and thank them all for their time as being employees and helping them set themselves up for future success and you are all going to clap or cheer or cheers them.

This is critical. This is that experience factor that really takes a difficult, difficult moment and helps not with positivity so much as just your employees feeling seen and acknowledged and at the end of the day that's all we really want. So do a clap out, do a cheers. Let them know that you're there to support them, share the resources and say thank you. The next part of this is going to be HR is going to send the employee detailed information via email. They're going to get outplacement support that's going to be delivered by their contact there and so on. So that's an example of mapping out for an impact and employee. Yours could be the same or different, but you really want to think through what you're saying. Who was saying it, what your key messages are for each communication so that it's consistent and your leaders and your employees who are there and who are leaving feel supported and knowledgeable.

Remember that a lack of information creates gaps and then people will fill in the gaps with rumors or bad information, which is usually worse than the actual situation and we definitely don't want that in a ref when people are sheltered in place at home. The second thing we are going to do is we're going to be overly clear in the terms of this riff and next steps. Create a one sheet if your legal team will let you, having all of the information and details super accessible, super clear, no CYA and yourselves. Here we are answering the big questions, those things that always come up. Things like when's my last day of work? When's my last day as an employee? When do I be paid until how long does my severance last? What's it paid at? Is it a percentage? Is it full, et cetera. When am I going to receive Cobra information?

How much should that cost me? Can I file for unemployment and if so, when will I have outplacement support and what does that look like and so on. You really want to be very, very clear in your messages to your impacted employees. At this point they are already freaked out and at home and now they're impacted and freaked out that they don't have income coming in so they may not hear the communications that you're saying to them during the impact conversations and they need something that's super easy. I always say third grade level to understand to go from here. It is not the time for us to be vague. It is not the time for us to say, well, it depends. It is not the time for us to say, please refer to the severance policy on this document in line eight section B, line number Roman numeral three stop it.

That's not helpful. We need to be very clear in how we're communicating the terms. We're going to provide our impacted employees with next steps, information and a really, really important place to send them for questions. It could be an email, it can be a phone number, it could be a website, but wherever it is, we are going to have available questions being sent to one central location, so our employees who are impacted know exactly where to go if something's unclear. The third thing we're going to do is have empathy but set boundaries. So I tend in all honestly to be to default to just about the facts in situations like this super like delivering the message. Nothing else, no emotions in and out, but we know that at this point in time we need a lot more empathy to deliver this message than most situations like this.

However, this does not mean that what's required from you now is to sit and listen to long crying Jags and extended blame sessions or perhaps get yelled at. That's not appropriate. You are still an HR professional and you're likely the only HR professional in the room during these conversations, and I know it's a virtual room for many of us right now, still a room, but we're not being empathetic does not mean we turn into a um, doormat. Okay? We have some boundaries obviously per be professional, be appropriate about it, but it doesn't mean that we have to listen to all of the bad, otherwise we will fall into it as well. So you like as a professional, I know most of us take that very seriously in general, but it's so important right now. It doesn't mean that we're reading like as a professional with empathy.

It doesn't mean that we're just in there reading a boring script and topping off the phone as fast as we can and being just the facts person, it means that we treat our employees the way that we would want to be treated while also maintaining healthy boundaries for our own mental health. Being the bearer of bad news is never easy, especially right now when things just feel super uncertain and uncomfortable and we're all out of routine. And everything just feels out of control. It's even harder to be the bearer of bad news during these times, but you have to do that as part of job. But we have to do it with some boundaries. So have some empathy, but don't be a doormat about it. You're still there to do a job. You still are. Yes, probably part of the process and decision-making team.

But it's not because of you that this is happening. And employees tend to blame us in HR because we are the ones delivering the message or we're an easy scapegoat. But it's not. We all know we're not, it's not us, but our employees don't. And so don't fall into the trap of being like, yeah, I know like HR. I know there's nothing I can do. We're not going to take blame for something that isn't ours. We're going to show empathy and be sorry about the situation, but we're not going to be a doormat. So the big takeaway from today here is that we cannot NHR lose sight of our duty and our responsibility to deliver consistent employee experience that sets our employees, our companies. And our own careers. That for success is specially during this time of uncertainty and in particular during a riff event.

So there's going to be a riff resource available in the show notes for more information and ideas. If you're not sure what to say or where to go or what outplacement is or any of those things, go read the show notes, but I want to give you some encouragement as a fellow HR professional who's been in your shoes. These are hard times. We will get through it, rifts suck all the time, but we're going to do best we can to help our employees that are impacted, feel respected, feel valued so that on the other side of this event we are going to still have some sort of a positive employee experience. Set up for success is podcast is brought to you by the employee experience solution book. Today's HR leaders and innovative workplaces can't waste time on focusing on employee engagement. We know that in our current uncertain times, traditional employee engagement tactics are becoming even less effective and even more expensive to increase your engagement and cheaper talent engaged right now and beyond, you need to dig deeper and get to the root of the issue, and that's why the new book, the employee experience solution, is designed to help you rethink your approach to employee engagement by focusing on experience.

Starting right now, pick up your copy of the employee experience solution on Amazon or at better.com/book that's B E T T hr.com/book thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including the show notes and resources, please go to rethink HR podcast at comm slash two.

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