It's the worst part of being a boss, the part every boss dreads -- and even good bosses bungle it. Bosses all over the country have laid off more than 600,000 employees since last September. If you're a boss, your turn may be coming.
If you have to lay people off, here are some ways to make the bad news a little more bearable:
Break the news in person, and take your time. Your employees are bound to be in shock, even if the cutback has been expected. It's important to set plenty of time aside, so they can absorb the news, take a deep breath, ask questions, cry
"Foul!" or rant and rave (even at you).
All of us want to end these encounters quickly because they're so painful. But it's callous and unfeeling to act as if this cataclysmic event in our employees' lives isn't worth a great deal of concern and attention.
Take time to be informed before you meet with your employees, as well. Provide them with precise information about how much severance, vacation and other pay they'll receive, where their expense accounts stand, how long it will take before their unemployment insurance kicks in and how they should apply for it.
They'll also need clear, specific information about what's going to happen to their health and life insurance policies, pension contributions, tuition loans, child-care assistance, union memberships, profit-sharing options, credit union balances, etc.
It's a good idea to supply your laid-off employees with the names and telephone numbers of counseling centers and support groups, employment agencies, head-hunters, temporary help agencies and retraining facilities in your community.
Do put this information in writing -- even if you're a small company laying off just two employees. No one who's suffered the kind of shock that always accompanies even a half-expected layoff is likely to retain much verbal information.
If you plan to write letters of referral, this is a good time to say so. Your written words may help soothe his or her pain when the shock wears off.
Once you've said everything you have to say, it's time to stop talking and listen. Allow your employees to say what they think and feel without censoring, interrupting, objecting or defending yourself or the company.
"If I listen to my employees until they're all talked out, they're less likely to take their [perfectly understandable] anger out on innocent by standers," said a friend who's recently had to deny several employees the raises they've been expecting.
"I want them to be able to talk to me honestly because I'm a safe person," she added. "I'm not going to retaliate or hold what they say against them, the way some people in the company might."
Finally, when you're in doubt about how best to break the news, ask yourself, "How would I want to be treated right now, if I were being deprived of my livelihood through no fault of my own?" The answer will tell you all you need to know.
Questions should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.