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    Quitting on your own terms

    DOWNSIZING WITH DIGNITY

    We Can Do Better

    It’s never pleasant to lay off team members due to poor company performance or a change in direction. Still, it is a reality that nearly all companies and leaders face at some point in their careers. Over my decades-long career, I’ve seen, orchestrated, and been on the receiving end of the reduction in force (RIF) actions. There is a right and wrong way to do this.  

    Over the past 12 months, with thousands of layoffs continuing, I’ve witnessed mind-baffling scenarios that unfold when companies and their leaders mishandle these difficult situations. The loss of valuable team members is painful, and it’s exacerbated when we make a hot mess of the situation by neglecting to treat all team members involved in the process with the empathy and respect they deserve. 

    Acknowledging the legal and safety implications that occur during a RIF is critical. I’ve navigated lawsuits, been on the receiving end of death threats, and seen complete emotional breakdowns from the most stoic people. That’s no excuse for mishandling these situations. These risks can be mitigated differently. 

    I’ve seen remote workers being laid off over email, mass firings done in a conference room, and leaders given a list of the team members to notify with a 15-minute warning and no talking points. 

    Employees get a random meeting on their calendar, go to a conference room, see their boss sitting with HR, and know their time is up. After their boss, who refuses to make eye contact, reads a script and HR walks them through the mechanics, they are forbidden to return to their desks and given the “perp-walk” as they’re escorted out of the building. 

    Coworkers and colleagues are scrambling to determine who was impacted and wondering if they’re next. They watched the circles next to each name on the corporate instant messenger turn from green to gray as their access was revoked. 

    Clients, stakeholders, and business partners are left hanging with uncompleted work, no transition plan and opaque status updates on mission-critical projects.

    We can do better. 

    This is a call to action for everyone involved to put humanity back into this process

    We need to remember the people we’re letting go are the same people who have run through brick walls for us, giving up their nights, weekends, and family time. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s time for policymakers to reconsider a better way to handle RIFs, for leaders to step up with empathy, and for employees to accept the difficult news gracefully. 

    With so little leadership guiding the way to downsizing with dignity, I’ve included things for you to consider adopting – no matter what role you play in the RIF process.

    POLICYMAKERS

    It’s never easy, but it doesn’t have to be a total nightmare, either. As leaders, we have the power to make this process as dignified as possible for everyone involved—our team, shareholders, and customers alike. Here’s a rundown of how you can set the tone for downsizing with grace and empathy:

    Know Your Talent: Before making big decisions, look at your team. Who are the rockstars you absolutely want to keep onboard? Do you have the right person in the wrong role? Who is on your succession plan? Who is leading your critical projects? Keeping your talent assessments current can help you answer all these questions quickly and prioritize accordingly.

    Plan Like a Pro: It’s time to whip out that comprehensive plan covering all the bases—how, when, and how many severance packages, incentives, and stay bonuses will be offered. Remember, communication and transparency are crucial components here.

    Keep It Fair: Consistency is our best friend. To ensure fairness and minimize confusion, let’s establish clear criteria for who stays and who goes and communicate that to the leaders closest to the work with simplicity and provide lots of support.

    Privacy Matters: When it’s time to say goodbye, let’s do it privately and respectfully. No one needs a public spectacle. Give your team the choice to say their goodbyes how they want. No awkward “perp walkouts” here, please.

    Support Beyond Goodbyes: Demonstrating your commitment to our team’s well-being extends beyond their departure. Offering outplacement services reflects our dedication to supporting their future endeavors. Once the notification process is complete, encourage your leaders to leverage their external networks to highlight the talents of our standout employees. This proactive step can expedite their reemployment opportunities and showcase your commitment to their continued success.

    Train with Heart: Our leaders need to be equipped not just with skills but also with empathy. Let’s make sure they know how to handle tough conversations with care and prepare them for every eventuality. A well-trained leader doesn’t have to stick to an impersonal script. 

    By following these guidelines, we can navigate this challenging process while still keeping our humanity intact. Let’s lead with heart and show that we’ve got our team’s backs even in tough times.

    LEADERS

    Let’s talk about a part of our job that’s never easy: delivering downsizing news. It’s tough, but it doesn’t have to be soul-crushing. Here’s how you can handle it with empathy and dignity, especially in today’s remote work setup:

    Practice, Practice, Practice: Before diving into the conversation, take a moment to practice what you’ll say. It helps to have your thoughts organized and your words clear.

    Lead with Empathy: Imagine you’re in their shoes. This news is probably going to hit hard, so approach the conversation with genuine empathy and a willingness to listen.

    Show Some Love: Don’t forget to express gratitude for their hard work and dedication. Let them know that their efforts are valued and appreciated.

    Keep It Simple and Clear: Be honest and straightforward about the situation. Nobody likes beating around the bush, so keep your message clear and to the point.

    No Pink Slips Over Email: Remote work doesn’t mean we can fire someone with a cold email. Hop on a video call or meet them in person. It’s more personal and respectful.

    Bring the Kleenex: This conversation might get emotional, so have some tissues handy. It’s a small gesture that shows that you care about their feelings.

    Delivering tough news like downsizing requires a bit of finesse, especially when so many of us are working from home. But remember, it’s all about treating others how we’d want to be treated. So, let’s lead with heart, show some compassion, and handle this tough conversation and your people with dignity. 

    IF YOUR TIME IS UP

    Getting the pink slip is a tough spot to be in, but trust me, you can bounce back stronger than ever. Here are some down-to-earth dos and don’ts for navigating job loss in the corporate world:

    DO 

    Keep Your Cool: Keep your poker face on when you hear the news. Save the waterworks for later, and keep the conversation professional.

    Get the Deets: Ask about the important stuff: your last paycheck, unused vacation days, severance package, insurance coverage, 401(k), whether you’re eligible to come back, eligible for unemployment, and if there’s any outplacement support available.

    Paperwork Pause: Get everything they promise you in writing, but don’t rush to sign anything on the spot. Take it home, read it over, and make sure you and your lawyer are cool with the terms.

    Money Matters: Decide if you want your severance as a lump sum or spread out over time. It can affect your unemployment benefits and taxes, so think it through and get professional advice.

    Reflect and Plan: Take a breather to think about what you really want out of your career. Set some goals and make a game plan for getting there. While money may feel tight, this is a great time to hire a coach to accelerate your return to work. 

    Redefine Success: Take this opportunity to rethink what success means to you. It’s not just about climbing the corporate ladder—maybe it’s about finding a better work-life balance or pursuing your passion projects.

    Network, Network, Network: Your contacts can be your lifeline in times like these. Reach out, grab a coffee, and let people know you’re on the hunt for your next gig.

    Stay on Schedule: Keep a routine going to help you stay sane. Treat your job search like a 9-to-5 gig, even if you do it from your couch. Treat your job search like a project. Set goals, make to-do lists, and celebrate the wins along the way.

    Me Time: Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Use this downtime to do things you enjoy, whether volunteering, starting a side hustle, or learning a new skill. Make it fun, and be sure you are giving yourself some TLC. 

    DON’T

    Freak Out: As tempting as it may be, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and remind yourself that you’ve got this.

    Forget the Finances: Make sure you understand the financial implications of your job loss, from taxes to severance packages. It’s boring, but it’s important.

    Brush Off Legal Stuff: If you’re unsure about anything in your exit agreement, don’t hesitate to get legal advice. Better safe than sorry!

    Feel Embarrassed: Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Layoffs reflect your company, not you. You’re the same rockstar you were the day before you got laid off, so act like it. No one has a perfect career path, and yes, there are companies out there dying to hire you. 

    Remember, getting laid off sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. Use it as a chance to reinvent yourself, chase your dreams, and come back stronger than ever.

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    Tammy Alvarez is a visionary who catalyzes leaders to level up their performance for themselves and their businesses. Her spirited “Break all the Rules” approach blends decades of C-Suite experience on Wall Street with a pragmatic, results-based coaching style that helps business professionals create a big impact and love every Monday morning again.

    Tammy Alvarez

    CEO/Founder, Career Winners Circle

    About The Author

    Tammy Alvarez is the CEO of the Career Winners Circle and is also an author, professional keynote speaker, inspirational coach, trainer, and epic storyteller.

    As an award-winning entrepreneur and former corporate executive, Tammy believes leaders who inspire courage are at the heart of every successful business.

    Tammy has an unwavering commitment to advancing ambitious business leaders so they can grow their careers as far as their drive will take them. She is the creator of the Career Success Blueprint – the ultimate executive career strategy framework, Own Your Power! – a pragmatic approach to advancing women leaders, and the CEO Advantage – helping small business owners scale without killing themselves in the process.