Dear Dan: Contacting Laid off Employees will Be Patronizing
My recommendation to keep in contact with laid off employees elicited the following response.
“Do you think contacting people and asking them how they are doing while they are laid off will be patronizing and make them more upset?”
The comment continues, “I understand that your heart is in the right place, but if put in their shoes I might not take it as well as it is intended.
I do whole heartedly agree that how we treat people during covid-19 will stick with them forever, I just think we need to make sure to show empathy and be genuine. I thoroughly enjoy your blog every day!”
I appreciate the comment. It brings up important issues.
Be genuine whatever you do.
Disingenuous behaviors aim to manipulate. Manipulators dehumanize their victims, degrade themselves, and pollute organizational culture.
The difference between manipulation and genuine influence is generous intent.
- Disguise malicious intent with smiles.
- Disadvantage others for personal advantage.
#1. Did you treat people like tools before laying them off? Don’t bother calling them.
An aloof management style makes kindness seem condescending.
#2. Did you act inhumanely during layoffs? Don’t follow up unless you’re calling to apologize.
#3. Err on the side of reaching out, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s always good to express care.
The feedback I get from clients is keeping in touch with people who are laid off is a good thing, especially if you hope to bring them back.
Things to say:
After laying off someone, treat them with kindness and dignity. Call them and say things like…
- You’re important to me. If the previous statement isn’t true, don’t bother calling. And, do me a favor. Get out of leadership.
- How are you? (Just listen.)
- I’d like to keep in touch if it’s OK with you. (If your relationship with an employee is distant, you might add, “But I understand if you prefer that I not call.”)
- Offer help. Perhaps you could write a recommendation if HR allows. It’s hard to imagine turning away from a former team member if you’re able to help.
Note: Check with HR for language you should avoid.
Whatever you do, speak and act with heart. What does your heart tell you to do? Say?
Re: #3 above – permission to keep in touch:
On twitter, @CyntrellJaneau wrote, “Don’t call me if you laid me off unless you’re offering me my job back.”
She refers to a previous layoff when, after losing her job, she lost her house and car. It’s frustrating and heart wrenching.
If you called Cyntrell, she’d tell you not to keep her in the loop!
All organizations should require higher-ups to call employees who are laid off due to COVID-19. For goodness sake, help front-line managers navigate the challenges they face.
Out of touch leaders end up ignorant and arrogant. Everything good in leadership begins with humility.
What does compassionate leadership look like during COVID-19 layoffs?
How to Manage Coronavirus Layoffs with Compassion (HBR)
How to Handle Layoffs Caused by COVID-19 (Bamboohr)
Note: I suspend my 300 word limit on blog posts for “Dear Dan” articles.
The word “disingenuous” is the perfect term for how I felt when my boss called me. He’s someone who was “distant” in prior times, struggling to have even polite social interactions before our layoffs. Now it appears we’re close to being called back to work. All of a sudden, he’s reaching out to “fill us in what’s happening.” While sharing no timeline or estimates on when it all may happen, he’s asking what’s new.
It really felt phony that he all of a sudden cares how we’re getting along. Frankly, any “concern” he tried to show seemed more about whether or not I plan to return when this pandemic ends. True to form, he appears to be covering his backside should he need to find my replacement should I decide I’m not going back to work. Sad faces …
Thanks Mike. You’re story illustrates the importance of leading with heart regardless of the situation. I’ve noticed that the fundamentals of leadership/management don’t change because of situations. Honesty, Consistency, Vision, Curiosity, Humility… and more apply all the time.
If you don’t mind me saying, often we get further by ignoring our disappointments and pressing into the future. Perhaps assume the best and let the rest go. Just a thought.
But, I totally get it. The biggest factor for organizational performance, employee engagement, and employee sanctification is the person who supervises them.
Best wishes moving forward
I read “layoff” as having the potential to “rehire” the person. It’s not a clean break of the business relationship. The negotiation of permission to keep in touch can also be framed in the context of:
(1) What can the business offer the person?
(a) Don’t delay in providing layoff documentation, final pay cheque, etc. Then follow up confirming that they received what was sent. (Also serves as a low risk opener to a new conversation.)
(b) Info on resources for people who have been laid off in similar situations [e.g. in Canada we have several gov’t programs for those who have lost their employment due to COVID-19]
(2) What does the person want?
(a) To remain on the “call back” list? If so, the business needs to keep the persons’ contact information up to date, negotiate future contact, learn the person’s preferred mode of contact.
(b) No further contact with the business at all? If so, formally document that the person wishes to be removed from the call back list, and asks for no further contact from the business, and ensure the key people in the business are aware of this.
The onus is on the business to show the person the value in maintaining a rapport. In doing so, the person may provide creative suggestions not otherwise considered by the business.
Thanks Macisaac. You’ve added so much useful insight. You are right, the context of this and recent posts is layoffs due to COVID. However, it seems to me that it’s always a good idea to treat people like human beings regardless. Yes, if someone is terminated, they might not want contact, but if an organization can be helpful to them, it seems “small” to withhold it.
Your last paragraph sings. The person/organization that has authority/power is responsible to define the relationship and make the first move.
An interesting post with good insight of expressing empathy with those who were laid off! It sounds good if you have treated employees well on their exit and given them their right dues promptly. However, employees are disturbed during those sad moments and don’t pay much attention to this superfluous behaviour. The similar situation prevails at the time of exit interview. A meaningless act!
It is better to phone or write to such employees after a period of 15 days to a month and show the genuine concern and extend your help/guidance. It will go a long way in maintaining good healthy relationship.
There is an another angle to this debatable issue! At times, some lay-off employees do try to be in touch with their bosses finding some occasions to express good things. But, the egoistic and unprofessional bosses just ignore things with no response.
Thanks for the additional insight – all were valid strategies that can help with tough situations. I especially like asking for permission to keep in touch and asking a question and just listening. Thanks again!
Be well! Glad you circled back. Thanks for joining the conversation.