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Where is the Humanity in a Layoff?


Woman sitting on a blue couch in the dark holding her face in her hands
Photo Courtesy of Annie Spratt and Unsplash

I remember it like it was yesterday.


I was laid off 14 years ago in October 2009. Even though so much time has passed, I can still remember all of the details of that day, including what I was wearing and what the weather was like (...it was cold, gray, and raining which was especially fitting considering what I would face that day).

I was called into the director’s office and upon entering the room, I noticed the CEO, a person I seldom interacted with sitting at a small table with a notepad and pen. He invited me to sit down next to him.

As I sat down, I saw the notepad was opened to a page with a list of names crossed out. As I looked more closely, I realized that these were the names of my co-workers who had just been let go. Right then I knew: I was next on the chopping block.


Thoughts and questions started churning in my head. Why of all people was the CEO delivering the news to me? He was not familiar with my work or what I did, and I rarely saw or spoke to him. I also wondered why my immediate supervisor, the person I worked with daily, was not present for this meeting.


The conversation only lasted less than 10 minutes but to me, it felt like a lifetime. In no minced words, I was told my position was being eliminated effective immediately. He spoke in generalizations and empty platitudes like “This decision bears no reflection on your performance”.


After a few minutes of going through his checklist of things to cover, he opened it up for my questions. I was given no time or space to process the news and sat there in shock with very little to say. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest and my palms sweating. It was a deeply cold, impersonal, and robotic conversation.


That day I was treated like a number. For all the time and dedication I put into that job, I was offered a measly severance and zero support. In a matter of minutes, with boxes in hand and tears in my eyes, I made my way to my car and headed home.


For the next several months as I searched for jobs, I struggled with feelings of fear, isolation, and self-doubt. It took a while to get out of the emotional rut that I was in and back on my feet.


With no doubt in my mind, I firmly believe that if the layoff were handled differently – with more compassion and humanity – the emotional challenges I faced after being let go would not have been as severe and I would've stepped into my next professional chapter faster.

 

This is my layoff story.


I share it with you because like so many others who have lost their jobs, it greatly impacted my life and my mental health. Losing a job is an extremely emotional and traumatic experience. It not only affects an individual’s financial stability, but it also affects their sense of self-worth, identity, and belonging. The stressors and emotions that result from experiencing a traumatic event like a layoff can be long-lasting, if not a permanent scar.


Unfortunately, due to the chaotic state of the market and other contributing factors, layoffs have been and continue to be on the rise. I see posts from people every day on LinkedIn sharing their layoff stories and how they too were treated like an afterthought by their former employers.


Companies must not forget that the people they are letting go are actual human beings with real emotions, lives, families, and responsibilities. Laying off employees is not an easy thing to do, but it does not have to be a cold or mechanical process. The fact that layoffs are inherently traumatic mandates a human-centric approach to carrying them out. An approach that incorporates compassion, respect, care, and intention.


Employers must reevaluate the experience from the employee’s perspective and put themselves in their shoes.

Let me say that in a different way. Employers today are more mindful of the employee experience, and that includes exiting people from the company too.

Blue, orange, green and white striped wall with "make people feel loved today" written on it
Photo Courtesy of Clay Banks and Unsplash

A human-centered approach to layoffs includes (but is not limited to) these core elements:

  • Open communication & transparency

  • Active listening

  • Space for processing emotions

  • Empathy

  • Respect

  • Supportive resources (e.g., outplacement services)

While layoffs are never easy - for the employer and especially for the employee, the more humanity that comes into the conversation, the easier it is for everyone involved.


I encourage companies - especially their business leaders and HR professionals - to adopt a human-centric approach to conducting layoffs. In doing so, they are helping to turn a traumatic experience into a more humane one; one where people are treated with care and dignity and are provided ample support and resources to land on their feet again, not sending them out on their last day in tears and in pain.

 

If you are navigating layoffs in your organization, or want to learn more how to bring humanity into your world, we have created a helpful guide for you. Please click here to download the Humane Guide to a Layoff today.


WeInspireWe also offers Outplacement Services to support you and your team too. Please click here to learn more.

 
Woman in pink blouse sitting on a bench with white flowers behind her
Brooke Tichenor, The Career Storyteller

Brooke Tichenor, the WeInspireWe Career Storyteller, is our in-house expert for all things job search related. When it comes to layoffs and outplacement services, Brooke is an experienced resume writer, LinkedIn developer, interview prepper, negotiation expert, and human resources professional with a heart for helping people get to that ‘next chapter’ in their careers. Brooke's interactive process hones in on the individual’s relevant skills, areas of expertise, achievements, and value that align with positions of interest. She then crafts a ‘human voiced’ resume that conveys a unique and captivating career story that stands out from the competition. Her goal for each client is to walk away with clarity and confidence in themselves and empowerment to go after their dreams.


If you're ready to offer help to your team who is experiencing a layoff, or help in jump starting your job search, finding and communicating your career story, or building confidence within, click here to meet with Brooke for a free 1:1 consultation.


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