What to Expect When You Say “You’re laid off.”

Are you planning to make workforce reductions in 2021? Do you know what to expect when you say “You’re laid off.”?

At Transition Solutions, we have been helping companies and individuals with workforce changes and outplacement services for 30 years.

You state, “Mike, your position is being eliminated.” What happens next? Does Mike get up and walk out? Does he start to cry? Stare in disbelief? Start to laugh? Does he become violent? Or does he sit there and say nothing? These are a few of the reactions you might anticipate in a termination meeting. We discuss these in more detail below and include our advice on how you should respond to each situation.

  • Common Reaction: The most predictable response to a termination shows some hurt and disappointment, and possibly some anger. Most typically, soon after notification, employees display passive acceptance and show a normal concern for survival, often asking for help or support.

How should you respond? Allow the employee to express feelings. Many employees feel the loss of association, not just a job. The employee may break into tears. Allow those who are overcome by their feelings to cry. Don’t try to stop them by promising special treatment or creating false hope. Silence is usually the most supportive reaction from you. Most people will compose themselves fairly quickly. Offer tissues and water. Provide written information. Remain calm, acknowledge feelings and stick to facts.

  • Anticipated Layoff Reaction: These employees saw it coming because in any transition, employees know that layoffs are likely, but they just don’t know when. These people will be very interested in quizzing you on the details of the severance package. They might express relief at finally having the period of uncertainty over.

How should you respond? Provide written information. Remain calm, acknowledge feelings and stick to facts.

  • Sadness or Depression Reaction: A common reaction is tears. The person who cries is venting emotions and will be able to move on much faster than the person who keeps it all inside.

How should you respond? Console the individual, empathize but don’t apologize for the actions of the company. An apology implies the company did something wrong. Reinforce the fact that the decision was a difficult but necessary one for the long-term well-being of the company. Let the person cry, show respect, offer tissues and allow the employee time to compose themselves in the privacy of the meeting room.

  • Total Disbelief or Shock Reaction: These employees say nothing and essentially enter a state of shock. Physical characteristics such as paling complexion, sudden perspiration and shallow breathing are apparent. They might repeat one particular phrase such as, “You can’t do this to me,” over and over. They will be able to respond to yes or no questions, but it will be difficult to draw them into a meaningful conversation. It may be helpful for the employee to verbalize their feelings and anxieties about being laid off. A person in this state of shock could do substantial harm to themselves unintentionally. This shock is usually caused by the threat that the termination poses to some aspect of their life.

How should you respond? Offer the telephone number of the EAP counselor. Immediately advise the outplacement consultant of employee’s frame of mind. Do not attempt to handle a situation that appears to be beyond your capability.

  • Euphoric Reaction: These employees react in an almost festive, upbeat manner. They go along with being laid off as they might go along with any suggestion given by the boss. They may be disoriented and will often not attempt to leave the building.

How should you respond? It may be wise to escort the employee out of the building and arrange for removal of their personal property at a later date, preferably after-hours.

  • Violent Reaction: Although not common, this reaction is anticipated with trepidation by everyone. The responses can range from shouting and screaming obscenities to threats of legal reprisal to actual physical violence. The latter is extremely rare, but does occur on occasion. We have all read about such incidences in the paper. Violent reactions may indicate serious problems and the need for professional help.

How should you respond? In the unlikely event that an employee becomes hysterical or violent, stay calm and immediately implement emergency procedures. Tell the employee that you will not tolerate violent or aggressive behavior. Do not get defensive; be firm. Let them know that you are calling for assistance. If there is a strong suspicion (based on previous behavior) that violence might occur, the company may arrange for on-site security. If you anticipate the potential for violent behavior, arrange the room so that you as the manager are by the door.

The above reactions are listed in the order that they are most likely to occur based on our experience assisting with these types of notifications over the past 30 years; the common reaction, anticipated reaction, sadness/depression and reactions of total disbelief/shock occur most frequently.

When outplacement consultants are invited to be present on announcement day; it is part of their role to absorb and respond to the above reactions. It is part of their daily experience. Reactions which may appear very foreign to you will be more familiar to the outplacement consultants.

At Transition Solutions, we’ve developed a robust personalized and customized approach to planning and executing every situation. Our strong reputation for consistently delivering exceptional service at value sets us apart.

If you would like more information on our services or additional information on planning for employee separations please check out our website at https://www.transitionsolutions.com/outplacement-employers/ or you can contact us directly at 888-424-0003 or email us at info@transitionsolutions.com.

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