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Managing layoffs compassionately

Q: I'm in a role in which I may have to help make decisions about staff reductions. I haven't been in this situation before, and I'm feeling very uncomfortable. How should I approach this?

A: This is one of the hardest spots to be in management; you'll need to manage your own anxiety and have trust in the reasons for the reductions and the process your company is using.

Before you take any other steps, take time to get calm and focused, breathing deeply and quietly until you feel more relaxed. Return to this step when needed as you work through your feelings.

Understand your possible role more clearly. Might you be involved in determining the list, or also in breaking the news to people? Make sure that you're clear on the expectations your leadership has for you so that you can prepare appropriately.

Now, investigate sources of your discomfort. It's natural to feel nervous about giving bad news to people; letting people go can bring up a lot of strong emotion for both parties.

What other anxieties do you have? You may be skeptical about the need for reductions or concerned about the fairness of the process. Or you may be concerned that it'll lead to lack of trust among others on your team.

When it comes time for this process to unfold, be sure to engage fully rather than avoiding it out of your discomfort. The process of deciding who to let go should be as objective as possible, based on performance, position, and the needs of the company. To accomplish this, you'll need to be able to set aside some level of personal feelings — positive or negative — particularly when they are not related to the quality of someone's work.

It's also vital that this process be as kind, compassionate, and respectful as possible. It might be easier to have a hard shell when doing this, but you'll help everyone, including yourself, if you avoid that impulse.

Bear in mind that the employees who remain on the team will be watching how the workforce reduction is carried out; the team's perception of how you treated the person who was fired may be more important for ongoing morale than their feelings about the person who was fired.

Relying on the criteria that your company developed for trimming staff, be thorough in analyzing your team. In management meetings to discuss upcoming reductions, participate actively. This will help you advocate for your team appropriately, as well as give you a chance to speak up if you see any unfairness in the process.

Also turn to your boss to mentor you through this, requesting the time to talk through your recommendations to confirm whether you're on track with your approach. Your boss should also be a source of support as you learn this tough new management skill. Discuss any misgivings you have, whether they are based on concerns about the process or your own inexperience in this setting. Reach out to other managers as well, offering your support to them, and accepting theirs in return.

Find the inner strength to bring both business rationales and human compassion to bear in this very challenging situation.

(Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at http://www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or email her at liz@deliverchange.com.)

Copyright 2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis); distributed by MCT Information Services

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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