As HR professionals, we pay a lot of attention to first impressions. We create positive candidate and employee experiences. We work hard to set our employees up for success from their first day. We put well thought-out strategies in place, strategies that often involve time and money we believe to be well worth our investment.
But what about an employee’s last day?
Some studies show that the last impression is actually the most important one—one that’s more impactful and lasting than the first. First impressions are based just on cursory assumptions, before we really have a clear knowledge of the person or company. The last impression, on the other hand, is one that comes after you develop a relationship based in trust and mutual respect—and thus are more deeply remembered.
This is why we need to pay attention to how our employees feel when they leave our company, even in the case of difficult events like a layoff. The great Maya Angelou said it best: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Layoffs or reductions in force aren’t uncommon these days, but involuntary separation still bring up difficult emotions. After all, we are talking about the act of letting someone go. As HR practitioners, we make hard choices every day. But as we do so, are we making a conscious effort to preserve the dignity of those who are exiting the organization involuntarily? Are we making a conscious effort to practice kindness and compassion?
As Brené Brown said, “Compassion is not a virtue—it is a commitment. It's not something we have or don't have—it's something we choose to practice.”
So what does compassionate off boarding look like?
It starts with a plan. Having a well thought-out plan in place will help you prepare for the unexpected. Think through the logistical details ahead of time so you can be truly present in the moment during the notification meeting. Train the employee conducting the meeting so the process goes as smoothly as possible, both for the impacted associate and the person delivering the news. And provide outplacement services for exiting employees, so they have access to personalized coaching and other career transition support and can land new jobs faster.
Finally, don’t forget about those employees who are “left behind.” Consider how layoffs impact their engagement. Develop a plan to move forward together that offers clear direction and reduces the ambiguity of the situation.
Developing and using a comprehensive and compassionate plan for your layoffs will help you, your company, your remaining employees, and your exiting employees move into a brighter future, faster.