As many organizations across the country appear ready to tighten their belts in the face of recession, some are making difficult decisions. Just since the beginning of 2023, retailers have laid off 13,000 workers, outplacement service provider Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports.
Among major industries, retail is perhaps the most susceptible to the changing winds of the economy. Supply chain issues, changes in consumer earning, labor challenges and the dictates of supply and demand can all work together to suddenly create an environment in which a reduction in force is necessary.
But how your company communicates these significant and life-altering changes both internally and externally can make the difference between leaving a wake of disgruntled employees and outraged customers, or showing empathy, understanding and genuine concern for the welfare of those being affected — and perhaps better positioning your company for later growth.
Step 1: Have a communications plan in place.
A harsh reality of running a business is that at some point, most will face the need for layoffs. With this in mind, it makes sense to have a reduction in force messaging plan in place ahead of time, so those in charge of delivering that message won’t be caught by surprise and make easily avoidable messaging missteps. The perfect time to formulate this plan is always right now, but especially when times are good, because it allows for a clear-headed approach. Establish what audiences you’ll need to reach and how — including the channels you hope to use and media outlets with which you want to share your message. Emphasize that all messaging should be coordinated and distributed simultaneously.
Step 2: Understand the challenges your employees face.
Among those charged with making a reduction in force decision, there must be an understanding that “It’s not personal, it’s business” is an unacceptable response when it comes to those losing their jobs. Many in retail jobs depend on part-time income to accommodate other areas of their lives, while some of your full-time employees might already live on the edge or maintain additional jobs to make ends meet. The loss of this job is significant to everyone affected. Even with assurances that no further layoffs will come, the employees spared in a layoff will still be skittish. Be empathetic to what your employees are going through and make sure you do not make the pain of the layoff about you as the CEO or manager. Casting yourself as a victim will only make outgoing and remaining employees feel worse.
Step 3: Communicate care.
Clearly state whether you’ll be providing severance packages or other compensation to laid off employees. Will you provide resources to help them find new jobs? Say so. Are there allowances for insurance coverage laid off employees can apply for? Share these things openly with links to where former employees can access them easily. Refer to the company’s policies on layoffs, severance pay, continuing insurance coverage, job search counseling and individual notification and make sure these messages are included.
Step 4: Emphasize transparency.
Explain to customers and employees the specific reason your company is initiating a reduction in force — not just nebulous “economic realities,” but which ones specifically. Include any steps you’ve already taken to avoid having to make layoffs. Did executives agree to a pay cut? Were long-term employees offered buyout packages? This information will help minimize negative public response and quell speculation among remaining employees and the media.
Step 5: Don’t burn bridges.
Economic conditions change. Strategies evolve. And as such, your business might again be in a position to hire or expand. Maintaining good relationships with laid-off employees means you’ll have a pool of trained workers who are fully conversant in your company’s culture and, if you’ve done your job correctly, still hold some fond memories of working for your company — so much so that they might consider working for you again.
Cassandra (Cass) M. Bailey is the CEO of Slice Communications, the founder and current Chairwoman of Social Media Day, Inc. and the creator of the “My Mom Is…” children’s book series. She has been working in marketing communications for more than 20 years and has authored two books on the subject: Pay Attention! and Social Media is About People.