5 Things Employers Can Learn From a Viral Layoff Video

Adding empathy and compassion to the layoff process helps employees and can also protect a company’s reputation.

Written by Andres Lares
Published on Jan. 19, 2024
5 Things Employers Can Learn From a Viral Layoff Video
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Handling layoffs at a company is a challenging task that requires careful planning and sensitivity. Companies may choose to lay off employees for various reasons, and the decision is often influenced by a combination of internal and external factors, including financial challenges, restructuring, technological changes, mergers and acquisitions or cost-cutting initiatives.

5 Elements of a Compassionate Layoff

  1. It is held in a private and appropriate location.
  2. The news is delivered briefly and empathetically.
  3. The employee’s manager is in the room.
  4. The employee is given time to ask questions.
  5. The employee receives resources such as a resume review and complimentary job-hunting services.

Recently, a major tech company found itself in hot water after an employee recorded and posted a lay-off discussion. The video suggests the employee received little explanation from HR as to why she was being let go and that she was communicated with in a way that most viewers felt lacked empathy.

Laying off employees can significantly affect a company’s internal and external reputation. How a company handles layoffs can influence how it is perceived by current and former employees, clients, customers, investors and the general public.

Companies should prioritize a humane and transparent approach to layoffs to mitigate the potential negative impact on reputation. This includes clear communication, providing support services for affected employees and demonstrating a commitment to the wellbeing of both departing and remaining staff. Here are five elements of a human-centric layoff.

Further Reading on LayoffsTech Layoffs: How to Support Survivors


The Location Must Be Appropriate

First and foremost, choose an appropriate location, ideally a conference room. Layoffs conducted via video conference can be perceived as more impersonal than face-to-face layoffs. In face-to-face meetings, there is more control over the environment, allowing for privacy and focused attention. The absence of a direct, in-person connection can also make the communication feel distant and insensitive.

While video conferences offer practical advantages, such as facilitating remote communication, it is important to recognize the drawbacks when handling sensitive matters like layoffs. Make the effort to enhance the human connection, convey empathy and minimize the negative perceptions of impersonality in virtual layoff situations. 


The Delivery Is Brief and Empathetic

Deliver the news in a brief and empathic way. The moment an employee finds out they are being laid off, like any other bad/surprising news, they will have a physiological response that will lead to stress and lack of focus. The key is to delivering the news humanely without a 10-minute monologue.

If the employee struggles in the meeting, ask, “Do you want to take a brief break before we continue?” Give them time to process their emotions and allow for silence —  silence does not need to be filled. The more compassion and grace shown during a difficult time for the employee, the more likely they will remain advocates for your company.

Typically, organizations follow best practices when letting people go, but best practices can mean no human element. It means just following what others have done. Handle it with care and compassion once you decide to call for layoffs. This might means not reading a scripted message and it certainly means not reading the same scripted message to everyone. When someone reads from a script, especially a boss or an HR professional, they may appear detached, less connected, insensitive, monotonous and robotic. 


The Employee’s Manager Is in the Meeting

The supervisor or manager of the affected employee should be present during the conversation, not just HR staffers, who have little to no relationship with the employee. Effective communication during layoffs requires a personal touch to help employees feel supported. 

Transparency is crucial during layoffs to build trust and understanding. This means being specific within legal means and explaining the criteria and/or decision (e.g., this is cost-cutting and not because of performance. If anything, we thank you for x and y contributions). 


The Employee Can Ask Questions

Allow for questions. Layoffs often involve individual circumstances and questions that may not be covered in a scripted message. Reading off a script may limit HR’s ability to address specific concerns, leaving employees feeling unheard and unsupported. Answer the questions as best as possible and be mindful that you are looking to humanely deliver the news, not change the decision. 

Further Reading on Layoffs How to Handle Layoff Announcements

The Employee Receives Resources

Provide some resources related to their future job search and briefly explain them in the meeting. It’s essential to manage expectations, so you certainly don’t want to make empty promises. Still, companies that care about their employees provide resources such as resume reviews, interview coaching, job search resources, etc. to help the person transition to their next career step. Mention the resources available during the discussion and remember to follow up with the same information once the person has had time to digest the conversation.

Ultimately, a thoughtful and kind layoff is about restoring the human element in difficult conversations such as layoffs. Communicate with authenticity and sensitivity. While having key points or notes can be helpful, relying solely on a script may hinder the ability to connect with employees on a personal level and address their unique needs and concerns.

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