Laying off staff - some useful pointers


Laying off staff is one of the most challenging situations that business leaders can face. Here are some tips for handling the situation effectively and making it as painless as possible for your staff and yourself.

Laying off staff - Some useful pointers

You’ve realised that the only way you’re going to keep your business going is by laying off some staff. Here are some pointers on how to handle the situation effectively and to make it as painless as possible for both your staff and yourself, writes Hilary Jeanes of PurpleLine Consulting.

I’ve never done this before.  How do I handle it?

  • It’s important to get the process right.  Get some advice from an HR specialist who knows employment law and has experience of handling redundancies.  There is also lots of useful information on the ACAS website.
  •  Get someone to attend the interview with you and invite the employee you are laying off to bring someone to the interview too.  It’s useful for both parties to have someone else there who can remember what was said.  People sometimes go blank after you tell them and don’t hear anything else that’s said. 
  • You must follow up with confirmation of the discussion in writing.

What do I say to the people affected?

  • Get what you say right.  Give the message simply and clearly – and in the first sentence.  Prepare carefully what you will say and how you will say it.  Rehearse this in advance. 
  • Treat the person you are giving the message to with courtesy and respect.  Think about how you would like to be treated in that situation and treat them in the same way.
  • Be prepared for each individual to react to the news in a different way – some people will be very angry, some will burst into tears, others will say nothing.  Give the person time to take on board the message you have just conveyed.   You can’t control the other person’s reactions but you can anticipate what might happen and remain calm and objective about their reaction.
  • Take control of the conversation.  Use ‘and’ to pre-empt distractions, objections and blame. "I know you’ve worked here for 5 years, and I know you’ve worked hard, and I know you get on well with your colleagues..." And, and, and.  Avoid getting into an argument about the whys and wherefores.
  • Summarise what is being said to demonstrate that you are listening.
  • Ensure you are consistent about the reasons why you are making staff redundant.  Make sure it’s clear that the reasons are business ones and avoid commenting on any personal ones if the individual asks “why me?”  
  • Organisations handle these situations in different ways.  Some let employees go immediately, others expect employees to work out their notice.  This can be particularly challenging if you need time to transfer skills or projects from one individual to another.  You need to be clear about this before you go into the meeting.  Added uncertainty about this will not help you or the individual.

How can I manage my own state and feelings of guilt?


·         You can’t ever eliminate the stress you’ll feel about telling someone they are losing their job, but you can reduce it.  Focus your energy on preparing for the meeting – and handling any fallout afterwards.

·         Take a senior colleague, or if you are the boss, a trusted adviser into your confidence.  Choose someone you trust and who is not affected.  It will help to have someone to talk to and who you can share things with.

·         Steer clear of any blame.  Focus on getting things right for the future for you and your team/employees.

·         Think forward to 3 months or 5 years from now.  Thinking about the future helps to put things into perspective.  After all, planning for the future is the reason that you have taken the decision to lay off staff.

How do I deal with other people in the business?

·         Tell others in the team as soon as possible after you’ve notified the individuals affected so that you can reassure them and also so that you can manage the message.

·         Remember to pay attention to those who are not directly affected.  Often colleagues feel guilty when their job is safe whilst others lose theirs or wish that they could have gone.  Find ways to rebuild the team, with encouragement and positive feedback.


Is there anything else I can do to help those I’m laying off?


·         Help your colleagues in any way that you can – with time off, job applications, referrals to contacts, providing a reference.  Demonstrate your empathy – it’s important to be nice to people when the going is tough.  A good guide is to treat people in the same way as you would like to be treated.

Remember, if you’re the boss people will watch how you handle this situation in case there is a next time.  Do the best that you can do, and people will respect you for it.



Need some help to handle a termination interview?  I can help you prepare for the interview, attend and support you through the process.  Help is just a phone call or email away - call me on 01763 245323 or email

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Hilary Jeanes (trading as PurpleLine Consulting Limited)