A Guide to Change Management During a Lay-off for the Human Resources Professional

During economic down-turns, organizations are often faced with the agonizing choice of letting a portion of their workforce go. This can be a tough decision, especially for the small to mid-sized company that fosters a close-knit family environment. If you are a human resource manager faced with having to handle an upcoming lay-off within your organization, this guide is provided to help you with change management during this transition.

Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the lay-off.
As a human resource professional, a great deal of your role has been to get to know the people you work with on a personal level. During a period of change, particularly a down-size situation, it’s important that you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the uncomfortable conversations and decisions that are about to take place. Seek the guidance of a more experienced human resource mentor in your network in order to find the support you need to face the change in a compassionate, yet business-like manner. Remember to keep things professional and treat others with empathy and respect.
Test the temperature of the organization.
Before starting the layoff process, take the time to test the temperature of the organization as a whole to determine what kind of reaction to expect once word is given that layoffs will take place. Being positive and encouraging employees to talk about their concerns allows them time to prepare emotionally for upcoming changes as all will be involved at some level. Speak confidentially with key management to find out who knows and what aspects of each department will be most affected by employees leaving. Get all leaders on board and communicating with each other so that everyone is on the same page and to handle matters with consistency.
Evaluate the before and after affects.
It’s a good idea to have a clear picture of what each organizational department looks like now and what it may be like after the down-size. Determine what tasks are handled by current employees and how this workload will shift once certain employees are let go. An informal performance review conducted by management can be an accurate gauge to determine what employees may need additional training or support. Be sure that there are enough skill-sets available to handle critical components of each department to avoid putting undue stress on employees left after the change.
Review the impact on quality.
You can expect that each department will be affected in both negative and positive ways during the change in staffing. Management will need support to determine who needs to be cut in a fair measurement according to low performance or financials, by using information on performance reviews and wage statements. Employees left behind will need guidance and in some cases more training in order to successfully take on new or additional tasks assigned to them. The entire organization will need morale boosting activities to smooth things over during the transition. Now is the time to review how this process will affect the quality of the work environment and its impact on all involved.
Prepare for follow up with the recently laid off.
An important and often underestimated aspect of a company-wide layoff is handling the processes and paperwork that follow. Employees that are leaving must be provided with information about how their wages and benefits will change. Final paychecks must be handled carefully and company equipment must be returned. Wage information should be prepared in advance for processing with local unemployment agencies. Cobra notification needs to be explained to employees and processed in accordance with employment law requirements.
In order to effectively manage the challenges of a massive change like a corporate layoff, human resource managers are the important link in the process chain. Planning ahead and getting management support for making this change as smooth as possible takes the strain off the human resource department and creates an environment where employees and the company as a whole will bounce back from this difficult period.

Tess C. Taylor

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