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7 steps for making IT layoffs as painless as possible

“7 steps for making IT layoffs as painless as possible” on CIO, November 3, 2020.

1. Confer and plan

To reduce the possibility of making ill-informed and potentially costly mistakes, Alan Zucker, founding principal of IT advisory and training firm Project Management Essentials, advises working closely with the enterprise’s human resources and legal departments.

“Layoffs are governed by both local and federal regulations,” he explains. “Large corporations generally have well-established procedures to insulate themselves from legal actions from the impacted employees.” While following HR and legal requirements can be frustrating at times, these rules exist to protect the enterprise and its leaders from costly lawsuits and fines.

2. Compare current and future needs

Before making any final decisions, IT leaders should take a cold, hard look at their organization’s existing infrastructure and responsibilities. Ensure that the future organizational structure — after a workforce reduction has been completed — will still be able to adequately support enterprise needs and goals.

When it comes to assessing the full-time staff, Zucker warns that layoffs should never be used as an expedient way to “clean house” by getting rid of underperforming or unwanted employees. That’s an issue that should be approached separately from a layoff program, he notes.

To identify exactly which employees should be laid off, it’s necessary to review all current and planned IT operations and services. Zucker suggests categorizing specific job functions as either “mandatory” or “discretionary.” “Discretionary functions can be eliminated along with their employees,” he says. “Mandatory functions require a more thorough analysis.”

A teamwide examination is the best way to pinpoint which staff members should stay and which should go. Who has specialized knowledge and skills that can’t be lost? Who has a broader array of skills that support multiple functions? Kelly suggests conducting a comprehensive assessment of each staffer’s skillset.

4. Be open and honest

Reductions in force should always be positioned as a business event rather than a reflection of personal performance. “As a leader, we should do our best to communicate this message,” Zucker says.

5. Break the news gently and compassionately

The layoff process should be a highly coordinated and structured event organized with HR’s assistance. “Typically, there’s a bare-bones script provided to the manager conducting the layoffs,” Zucker says. “The impacted employee is told that their job has been eliminated and that a package describing the severance process is being sent to their home.”

6. Ensure security and safety

While it doesn’t happen often, management needs to consider the possibility that a dismissed employee might try to inflict harm on themselves, co-workers or enterprise assets. “Having extra security personnel on-site is a common practice [to guard] against physical violence,” Zucker observes. Ensuring that at least two IT or HR representatives are in the room when the bad news is delivered is also a widely used security technique.

If the departing employee has any enterprise assets in his or her possession, such as a phone, tablet, notebook or storage device, the device or media should be handed over immediately. Additionally, as soon as the meeting concludes, the manager should notify IT and security supervisors to immediately terminate the now-former employee’s access to enterprise systems.

7. Wrap things up

Employees want stability and a clear understanding of what happens next, Zucker says. “When you meet with the employees, explain the new ‘go forward’ plan,” he suggests. “Encourage managers to meet with their teams the next day to address specific operational questions.”