A 5-Step Plan for Restructuring

To help managers and HR professionals to be more effective at managing restructuring initiatives, it is important for them to know the proper way to communicate the news of a termination, to ensure that departing employees are treated with dignity and respect, while also minimizing the potential negative impact of a downsizing.

The following is a five-step process for managers and HR professionals to ensure a successful involuntary separation:

  1. Prepare the materials: The decision to lay off one or a group of employees is a business decision, one that should be supported by sound reasoning, good judgment and hard facts. Be prepared to explain the rationale to departing employees and have all severance information available in writing (notification letter, salary continuation/severance period; benefits; outplacement, etc.).
  2. Prepare the message: The act of termination is one of the most difficult and demanding responsibilities of a manager. To minimize the risk of becoming emotional or losing focus during the termination meeting, write the script you will use during the meeting and the key information you will convey to remaining employees. Keep it short and to the point, and practice ahead of time, so that the messages are clear in your mind. Do not deviate from your predetermined messages, and keep the meeting under 15 minutes.
  3. Arrange the next steps: During the separation meeting, emphasize what the employee should do next. Schedule meetings with your organizations human resources and outplacement professionals. Review what should be done with the departing employees personal belongings and specify when the employees should leave the organization. If you help the employee to look to the future, they may be able to rationalize the decision more quickly and understand that you are helping them to move on to new opportunities.
  4. Prepare yourself emotionally: Don't assume personal responsibility for the termination. Remember it is a business decision based on business needs. Acknowledge your anxiety, prepare your approach, and talk about your feelings with the human resource and outplacement professionals.
  5. Anticipate employee reactions: There are typically five reactions to termination: anticipation, disbelief, escape, euphoria, or violence. By acknowledging these various reactions and learning to recognize them, you will ensure that no matter what the reaction, you will be prepared to handle it in the best way. If you have an employee from whom you anticipate a violent reaction, you should have a security professional near the meeting place in case of an emergency.

A well-planned separation plan benefits everyone involved -- the employee, the manager and the organization:

  • The employee hears and understands the necessary information, knows what to do next, and retains his/her dignity and self-respect throughout the process.
  • Manager anxiety is reduced because he/she has had time to analyze the facts of the situation, seek advice from human resources professionals, organize the meeting agenda, anticipate reactions and deal with his/her own emotions.
  • For the organization, all legal and ethical responsibilities have been fulfilled, its internal and external images have been preserved, and any negative impact on the morale and productivity of remaining employees has been minimized.

It is in the organization's best interest to take care of departing employees, as it will affect your future recruitment and retention efforts. The way departing employees are treated today will not soon be forgotten by them, by the people with whom they share their experience, or by the employees who are left behind.