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!”

Legitimate concern:

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.


  1. Disguise malicious intent with smiles.
  2. Disadvantage others for personal advantage.

Key factors:

#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…

  1. 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.
  2. How are you? (Just listen.)
  3. 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.”)
  4. 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!

Involve higher-ups:

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?

Bonus material:

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.