Laying off Staff? The one thing to keep in mind...

There’s an expression that I’ve heard several times over the last week -- We aren’t working from home, we are living through a crisis trying to work. This is an accurate description of the reality as millions of people and businesses have shifted their normal operating procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There isn’t a person or a team that I’ve spoken to in the last ~45+ days who isn’t suffering from the mental, emotional, spiritual and mental toll and roller coaster that comes with the territory these days. As such, emotional intelligence is needed more than ever in leadership and Human Resources teams as their people are coping with the “new normal for now.”

Living through a pandemic is not a “business as usual” circumstance.

Leadership and HR teams need to understand the human component of their human capital, particularly when it comes to communication, policy and playing by the status quo rulebook. The usual scripts and strategies for upholding blanket policies and laying off masses of employees just don’t cut it right now.

Did you hear about the company, Bird, that laid off over 400 employees in a 2 minute, audio only Zoom call delivered by someone who was not recognizable to the employee group and was clearly reading a script?

The participants couldn’t even tell if it was a “live” or pre-recorded call because it was so mechanical and lacking any real human connection. Employees were immediately cut off from all company systems even as they were messaging each other to figure out what was happening. In a blink of an eye, their connection with the company was cut off.

As an HR professional, I’ve had a lot of training on how to terminate employment, both layoffs and terminations. Unfortunately, I’ve had to put that training into action more times than I cared to. It’s not an easy experience for either side. Having said that, listening to the recording of the 2 minute layoff call made me sick to my stomach.

It was clearly a script being read straight out of the HR101 handbook. What’s even more sickening is the founder of Bird, Travis VanderZanden, 41, a former top Uber executive who founded Bird only three years ago, who normally holds a regular biweekly all-hands meeting, didn’t have the courage to deliver the message to his people.

Bird’s had plenty of good times. In 2018, Bird became the fastest company in history to reach unicorn status. Shortly after that, it achieved a $2 billion valuation in less than a year.

Growing that quickly comes from the sweat and tears of the people making it all happen. The stress and pressure that comes with all of that deserves to have a leader who’s willing to show up when the party’s over.

As they say, 80 percent of success is showing up. I say, showing up in a genuine spirit of caring for your people is the other 20%.

Leaders and HR pros, please hear me -- you do not have to do this perfectly.

You simply need to remember that there is a human being receiving what may be earth shattering, shocking news.

This is what Emotional Intelligence (EI) looks like in action. Leaders need to step up to care more about their people and teams than they do about their own personal comfort.

I’ve worked with leaders for a long time now and I know what motivates a leader to avoid a tough conversation, or Crunchy Conversations© as I call them. It’s usually because they don’t have the emotional intelligence or emotional capacity to have the conversation successfully, so they opt out altogether.

Your choice reflects your mindset at the time, a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. When you are committed to growing is an excellent time to start working with a highly trained coach or mentor. You’ll get further faster than you will on your own. It’s like shaving off years of your career trajectory because of how much you grow in emotional intelligence through the process of coaching and internal reflection.

Regardless of what ends up happening to Bird, I hope that Travis VanderZanden, starts his journey of increasing his Emotional Intelligence soon. His lack of confidence in his ability to have the hard conversation has had a significant negative impact on real people. Continuing to allow someone to lead teams knowing they are deficient, without taking serious strides towards improving, is negligence. Your team deserves better.

We don’t need to do business this way anymore.This moment is the time to make the change that we’ve desperately been needing in the business world.

We can be caring and compassionate and connect deeply with our people -- that’s what great teams do. Great teams accomplish great achievements.

We all have our unique gifts to contribute, not better or lesser than, simply different. When we can approach our workplaces as we are all equals as humans, all with something essential to contribute, all wanting the best for the greater whole, each other and themselves, that’s when real magic happens. Who couldn’t use a little magic right now?

Emotional Intelligence practice for leaders laying off staff:

Ask yourself, if you were on the other side of that Zoom call, what would be the best possible way to receive this unfortunate news? Then, start working towards that.

This is definitely a time to invest in your people and get yourself well supported including legal counsel and executive coaching to help you with your messaging, delivery and presence.

Have you experienced or heard of layoff horror stories? Let me know about them! We learn just as much from poor leadership as we do from great leadership. Have you experienced or heard of layoff wonder stories? Let me know about them! Let’s shine a light and learn from them.

In service to your greatness,

~Aubrey Armes, PHR








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