How To Handle A Layoff

How To Handle A Layoff

Yesterday I had to layoff an employee.  It sucked.  Personally, I was never too fond of this employee; he was whiny and combative and I felt like he had an issue dealing with women in authority (read: he didn’t like a woman telling him what to do).  But laying people off has definitely, by far, got to be the worst part of my job and the truth is, it doesn’t really get easier, no matter who it is.

So, in what seems like the millionth layoff in my 8-year human resources career, I’ve learned what makes for a “successful” layoff:

Maintain Your Composure

You’ve just been told that “your services are no longer needed.”  You’ve probably also been told that you need to leave immediately (or that it’s highly preferred that you do).  Right now you feel real small, you’re ego’s taken a hit and you probably just want to climb under a rock.  I get it, I would too.  You may be visibly upset but please maintain your composure.  Nothing good comes out of an angry employee.  Besides, you are a professional.

Ask Basic Questions Related To Next Steps

Most likely, someone from human resources is there to answer any questions you have.  Maybe they’ve even put together a fact sheet for you that indicates any severance you’ll be receiving as well as any vacation pay, your benefits info, important contacts, etc.  Don’t ask why you were laid off.  In my experience it’s always a diluted answer and it’s usually tied to “the budget.”  That may very well be the case, but even if it’s not, they would never tell you.

Review and Sign Your Agreement

If you’re lucky enough to have received a severance package well, then you are lucky enough.  I’ve seen some hefty severance payments (ones I would have gladly accepted) and provided there are no miscalculations on the agreement, you can be sure that a team of professionals thought it through, then they reviewed it again.  We do not take layoffs lightly, especially for any minorities or anyone over the age of 40.  With that said, there’s no use in not signing your agreement, it really does end up benefiting YOU.

Leave promptly

It always boggles my mind to see employees try to hang around the office for what seems like hours saying their goodbyes after they’ve just been laid off (as was the case yesterday).  If it were me, I wouldn’t be able to get out of there fast enough.  I understand that people are worried about grabbing things from their desk, computer, etc.  but keep in mind that most businesses will have shut off your access to the network as soon as you finished hearing the word “layoff.”  I know that sounds harsh but it’s true.  After all, businesses have to protect their intellectual property and a potentially disgruntled employee is a risk.  Your belongings will gladly be packed up and mailed to you by someone in HR or the office manager. 

Another thing to keep in mind; it may not seem like it but everyone is on edge until you leave.  This puts HR in a bad spot for two reasons; 1) We’re the bad guys that have to ensure you left to notify IT and senior managers and 2) We don’t exactly want to be the jerk who’s demanding that you leave, especially for employees who are well-respected and have been there for a long time.  But, it’s part of our job. Say your goodbyes via email and leave ASAP.


After your emotions have cooled off and you’re ready to get back out there follow-up with your previous employer and ask for a reference.  Hopefully you haven’t burned any bridges (see first four suggestions) and your former company doesn’t have a policy against hooking people up.  Trust me, they will be happy to do that.