This following information is a guide provided by the University of Iowa Office of Human Resources to assist managers and supervisors with the difficult process of supporting and leading your staff through a period of workforce reduction and adjustment. We will focus on three major areas:
THE NOTIFICATION MEETING. Communicating the necessary information to employees whose jobs are directly affected; supervising and supporting them through the remaining time they will be working for you.
PROVIDING SUPPORT AND LEADERSHIP THROUGH THE REDUCTION PERIOD. Being aware of and responding to your entire workgroup as they go through the workforce adjustment period.
READJUSTMENT. Supporting and regrouping the remaining workforce after the reduction period.
It is important that all managers and employees remember that workforce changes affect employees and workgroups in many ways. Beyond the obvious financial impact, your employees may be affected emotionally, physically and in terms of their interactions and productivity as a group.
The Notification Meeting: Five Major Steps
Informing the Employee
Begin the meeting with introductions and thank people for attending. Then move quickly to sharing the reason for the meeting. Explain briefly that the university is experiencing a period of budget cuts and as a result, employee positions are being eliminated or restructured. Sample language might be “John, the university is facing severe budget cuts and departments have been asked to significantly reduce their budgets. As a result, we regret to inform you that your position is being eliminated or restructured.” Be very clear here. Do not say, “may be eliminated; or, will have to be eliminated,” Comments like these are ambiguous or make it sound like there is room for negotiation.
At this point you should assess the employee’s reaction. Allow a few seconds for the information to be absorbed and then proceed. Try to acknowledge the employee’s reaction. For example, “I know you need time to absorb this information.” Or, “I understand you are upset.” Then, it is better to proceed with the meeting unless the employee’s reaction makes that impossible. If the employee is too upset to proceed, set up another time for later the same day. You may also suggest that the impacted employee go home if they indicate that they are not able to continue working, and schedule another time the following day.
Outlining the Reasons
The employee needs to know why the action is taking place. When providing the explanation, include information that the termination is related to budgetary shortages and not due to the employee’s performance, personality or any other personal factor and that his/her ability to find another position should not be affected.
Be prepared to explain the reasons for the action and for the selection of the particular employee’s position, such as:
- “We are going to have to eliminate the program you administer.”
- “We need to reduce the number of employees in your group.”
The Merit System Rules outline a specific order in which positions are eliminated.
Procedures and Resources
While this is not always possible, giving the employee opportunities for input regarding when and how to deliver the information to the group is preferable. We recommend that you know before meeting with the employee the date when you intend to discuss the workforce reductions with the rest of the employees. The employee may have a preference as to whether they wish to be present for this meeting. You will need to decide the best time to discuss with the employee a plan to transition his/her workload. We recommend you schedule a follow up meeting to formally discuss the work transition plan, get any required forms signed, complete all the items on the Exit Checklist, and discuss how to handle the employee’s need to have release time to interview for other jobs.
Consider scheduling a follow up meeting to answer questions and discuss other details. Make contact with the employee periodically during the notice period to assess how they are responding emotionally and answer any questions that arise. If the employee appears upset and not able to continue with their duties, consider offering alternative duties that are less demanding, if that is an option in your area; or offer to call UI EAP at 319‐335‐2085 and arrange for a timely appointment. However, it must be the employee’s decision to meet with an EAP counselor. You may also contact EAP for a supervisory phone consultation regarding any concerns for an employee, discuss other related issues and/or seek support for yourself.
The Termination Meeting: Things to Remember
- However difficult this meeting may be for you, it is tougher for the employee. Do not get onto the topic of your needs, feelings or problems.
- Do not be defensive or feel you must persuade the person that the action is justified. Just state your case with confidence.
- This is not the time for a performance appraisal or grievances from the past.
- If you get stuck when preparing for the termination meeting, don’t guess. For specific process questions call Human Resources at 319‐335‐3558.
- Refrain from criticizing or placing blame on the University leadership or the State of Iowa.
- It is not helpful to say, “I know how you feel.” Each person feels things differently and has a right to do so. Just acknowledge the person’s feelings.
- Stay off the “blessing in disguise” theme. You may feel the layoff will be the best thing for the employee but the employee may have a very different reaction.
- “I do not want to do this, but…” is not an appropriate statement and comes too close to dealing with your feelings rather than the employee’s.
- Be sensitive to the feelings and emotions of the employee, both at the time of the termination meeting and in the days to come.
- Remember that it is normal to have to repeat information for the employee during this type of meeting.
Providing Support Through the Reduction Period
The emotional reactions experienced around job loss are similar to the grief process. People who experience a sense of loss normally move through a series of emotional reactions or stages. The sequence by which individuals move through the stages may vary and stages may overlap. The twelve stages of the terminations/reemployment process are described below.
Some people will experience a sense of relief. Some employees may delay dealing with the reality of the situation if receiving unemployment benefits. They also may experience relief if they were in a position or work environment with which they were dissatisfied. The termination may be viewed as a way out of an unpleasant situation.
Individuals may feel numb when they first receive the news of their termination.
Sometimes people cannot face that they have been terminated, and they do not want to talk about their termination with family and friends. People may feel in a daze for a period of time.
When denial can no longer be maintained, individuals may feel anger and resentment. They will ask themselves the question, “Why me?” Individuals may displace their anger toward the university, their supervisors, their coworkers, and their family.
Some will try to have their employment situation reconsidered.
People sometimes blame themselves for their termination. They begin to think it is because of poor performance. They may feel guilty for not “providing” for their family or themselves. A sense of failure is dominant.
The frenzied job search begins. Some spend hours reading want ads but do not apply for jobs or may apply for jobs for which they do not qualify. The job search is disorganized and/or sporadic.
This stage is usually inevitable. People may sleep more or less, eat more or less, drink more or less, etc. People feel that they have little control over their life situation.
Resignation to situation
Acceptance begins when individuals resign themselves to the fact that they are unemployed. At this point people realize they need to do something even though they may still feel angry or depressed.
Acceptance of reality
At this stage individuals can begin to develop goals, make plans, and begin to take action to change their situation. People can productively begin their career assessment and job search. (Note: If a long job search occurs, individuals can easily relapse to prior stages.)
This stage usually begins with making a decision about the future: accepting a new job, training for a new occupation, retiring, completing education.
Growth and new directions
Often, personal growth and development are precipitated by a crisis. However, most people do not voluntarily put themselves in a crisis situation. When people cope with the initial shock and anger, they are able to move in new directions, people generally become stronger persons.
Dealing with Employees’ Emotional Responses
People experiencing a reaction of shock, denial or self‐isolation, need to be supported and dealt with gently. For example:
“I know this is a very difficult time for you. As you go through this process, you might need some support to deal with the emotions and to begin thinking about how to move forward. I would like to talk with you again, and please remember that you have the following resources available to assist you.” Please contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at email@example.com.
People responding with anger may want you to understand their anger and continue to be supportive. Remember that the anger often grows out of fear, hurt or feeling overwhelmed.
“I certainly hear your anger and I can understand you feeling this way. Let’s keep talking about this, particularly if you have any further questions.”
If the individual becomes agitated, offer to take a break in the conversation and resume later or offer a reassignment if feasible. Again, remind the employee of resources available and suggest an appointment with UI EAP. If you cannot communicate with him/her suggest another discussion later and assess whether the employee should return to the work site, take a break or be released for the rest of the day.
Any verbal threats are to be taken seriously and reported to the Threat Assessment Team. The University of Iowa Threat Assessment Specialist, Eli Hotchkin is available by calling 467-0311. Physically disruptive or threatening behavior should be reported promptly to UI Public Safety at 335‐5022.
People experiencing panic will need to talk with someone who can help them move through the panic and begin to feel safe again. Then, they can take in support and begin thinking about their situation. A referral to the UI Employee Assistance Program with a request that a counselor see the person that day and as soon as possible is appropriate.
“You seem very upset. How about I call EAP for you and we schedule a time today for you to meet with a counselor.”
For people experiencing heightened emotional responses, call UI EAP immediately at 319‐335‐2085 or TAT. If an employee mentions suicide he/she should be escorted to the UI Hospital emergency room. University police can assist with this type of situation.
Remember that all employees in the work group will be affected and may show some of the following symptoms:
- Grief and feelings of support toward those affected
- Resentment toward the University and their managers
- Insecurity regarding their own jobs
- Increased need for support and information
- Increased need to talk about the events as a way of dealing with their feelings
- Temporary decrease in productivity
- Need for communication from management re: future direction for the University and the college or unit.
- Need for team building to adapt to the new structure and the possible increased workload.
- Need for morale building communication and activities
- Increased resistance to change
There are some things you can do to minimize the negative impact for employees who remain after layoffs:
It is very important to let your employees know what the university is doing and what they can expect. This holds true for the laid off employees as well as for those that remain employed. Communicate that the layoffs were necessary and why. Emphasize that efforts are being made by the university to assist the laid off employees, and to assist those that remain.
Observe for levels of stress, any confusion or disagreements about who is doing what and other signs that may indicate that the group needs assistance reorganizing. Workgroup meetings could give employees an opportunity to share their perceptions, ask questions and hear suggestions for dealing with stress as the team prepares to implement transition plans to handle the work previously done by the laid off employees. Assistance with this process is available through UI EAP (319‐335‐2085) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treating those that remain employed with respect and support can help them adjust more quickly and may improve retention of valued employees and assist the group in being as effective and productive as possible.
Provide leadership and opportunities for involvement
Be visible. Let your employees see you being active in supporting them, dealing with problems and talking with them about how the transition plan is working.
If stress or problems increase, don’t wait for it to become a crisis. Get involved or utilize the resources available to you through your college/unit or University Human Resources.
As we move forward, continue to provide information to employees about the University and issues that affect their work setting. Utilize group or individual meetings as appropriate to develop the new team.
Don’t assume that people are adjusting and just feeling grateful to still have their jobs. Practice positive change management leadership that fosters increased communication, more frequent updates, input from staff whenever possible, clarity regarding needed outcomes, permission to stop doing the activities that do not add value (or are not required) and provide opportunities for reward and recognition.
Give remaining employees opportunities to learn new things, perform new tasks and feel that they are growing through the job.
Some materials in this guide were used with permission from The Ohio State University.