Layoffs: Those Left Behind

Last week we went through a round of layoffs (or reductions in force, or whatever trivializing euphemism is currently en vogue). Over the course of two decades in the industry, I have been through numerous layoff cycles—as an employee being laid off as well as being among those that retained their employment, and later as a manager having had to lay folks off and escaping having had to do so. One thing that I have never done is escaped unscathed.

It is easy to lose track of—amidst the concerns about properly delivering a layoff message, dealing with the actual act of letting a teammate go, and severance packages—the human impact a layoff has on the rest of the team. When someone is fired for cause, justified or otherwise, there is at least a reason. There is no sense of the arbitrary. You can point to specific things and say “if I avoid that, I avoid being let go” to some degree.

With layoffs, there is a sense of randomness, of chance, of inevitability. That uncertainty can be devastating to team morale. Too often, a layoff is a signal of instability to those that remain, resulting in a wave of voluntary exits in the weeks and months that follow. When you are planning the deployment of your layoff messaging, remember that those left behind need attention, not just those with whom you are parting ways. As brutal as a layoff is to those let go, it can be profoundly traumatic to those left behind as well.