Thought Leadership

Is there a type of layoff that’s more humane?

Look to the Golden Arches.

This post originally appeared on Jessica Kriegel’s LinkedIn. To subscribe to her every-Friday newsletter, also on LinkedIn, go right here.

I had the privilege of being mentioned in a BBC WorkLife article about humane layoffs a few weeks ago. You might see the words “humane layoffs” and think “jumbo shrimp.” Is a humane layoff even possible? (It is, but more on that in one second.)

Since COVID and more people working from home, we’ve had a new wrinkle in the layoff equation: is it more humane or better/worse to be laid off remotely, i.e. on video, than to be laid off in person? 

The quick 35,000-foot sketch looks like this:

  • In-person: Many people would expect this from their manager, but there’s also the ignominy of walking out of a building with a box. (The “HR perp walk.”)
  • Remote: Feels less personal, but it’s also quicker and easier and there’s no perp walk – and when done, it’s in the comfort of your own home. 

The debate about “Which model is more humane?” got some virality last year when Braden Wallake cried while laying off employees. Remember this guy?

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Now we’re in a weird economic climate where jobs are available and people need to hire but oh wait maybe some of those jobs are ghost jobs and we’re also seeing massive layoffs, especially in tech. So, the debate about how to lay off is back in the news cycle.

As such, I got to be on Squawk Box on CNBC Tuesday morning discussing the McDonald’s layoff approach, which seems to be a master class in some respects:

Basically, McDonald’s canceled in-person meetings and sent employees home to await layoff decisions. They did it to respect “comfort and confidentiality,” which you can roll your eyes at, but I think it’s the right approach. 

It should also be noted that McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski announced the layoffs would be in April back in January, which gave time for employees to prepare. A lot of CEOs are afraid to do that because of the fear of losing good people. Chris was not. Good man. He also has taken a pay cut in the past.

Beyond the sheer location of being laid off, I think we need to start by admitting that being laid off sucks, and managers sadly often make it worse. Think beyond location. What a manager should do is this:

  1. If you know layoffs are coming, keep your team informed. Defeat gossip.
  2. When you think it’s very imminent, even tell your team to start looking and offer to be a resource. Be a support to them.
  3. Always underscore that there’s always a place for employees who kick ass, even if it means you leave for a while, or come back as a contractor. 
  4. Offer to help them in any way possible. 

We have an increasing economic reality where, aside from the value of a potentially-owned home and maybe a 401K, most people deal with most of their needs from salaried income. Losing that salaried income can completely disrupt a family. So while I actually do advocate for the at-home layoff, I also think it’s about more than location. It’s about the experience that the manager underscores as the layoffs are happening. Experiences drive everything in an organization, and a bad experience on the way out will sour you on that company, that manager, and that leadership team potentially for the rest of your career. Don’t be that person. Be a high-context, high-support manager in times of “strategic realignment.”

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