I feel terrible about having to lay off my staff

The idea of work is stressful as hell right now. People are worried about how to keep their jobs or find new ways to replace the income they’ve lost. For some people, workloads are way too high and for others worryingly low. Video calls are regularly being hijacked by kids and half-clad spouses, or worse, zoombombed by trolls. So let’s talk about these strange new circumstances we work in. Here are answers to some of the questions that landed in my inbox this week.

I’m overwhelmed with guilt about having to lay off my staff

I am a department manager at a nonprofit that is shut down for the foreseeable future, which means we have no reliable revenue stream apart from the generosity of donors. Every week, I’m getting asked to make more and more cuts to staffing and to pare down to the “essentials” so we will continue to have enough money to make payroll. While I completely understand why this needs to be done, I’m becoming overwhelmed with guilt and finding it difficult to stay focused and do my own work because I know the impact this is having on my staff. It also feels awful to tell someone their job is not considered essential. How do I get through this as a manager without being consumed by overwhelming guilt and despair?

It’s an awful feeling, so of course you’re distracted and upset! You wouldn’t be a good manager if you weren’t. (Imagine the sort of manager who can blithely cut people and not have it weigh heavily on them.) Your distress is a sign of your care for and investment in the people on your team.

Can you find comfort in figuring out ways to use your role to make a hard situation a little bit better for people? For example, you can work to ensure layoffs are handled with empathy and compassion rather than soullessly. You can advocate for as much support as you can get for them from the organization (like continued health insurance, if that’s possible) and connect them with resources — from info on unemployment benefits to job leads. You can make sure your work environment is supportive for the people left behind — that employees feel they have time and space to process what’s happening and ask questions and that they’re not burdened with unrealistic expectations about their productivity while you’re short-staffed.

You can also let people know their position being cut isn’t a reflection on their work or their value and that you’d welcome them back when your funding returns (if that’s true). In fact, I’d avoid telling people their positions aren’t “essential”; every employee is needed or you wouldn’t have hired them. It’s just our current crappy reality that has forced you to cut down to the bare minimum to stay afloat.

Can I ask my co-workers to stop sending around coronavirus jokes?

My 30-ish-person office is all working from home, and some of my colleagues are taking it upon themselves to send coronavirus jokes and memes to everyone on staff or to forward articles about the pandemic that aren’t at all relevant to the work we do.

Like many people, I’m having a hard time with anxiety related to COVID-19. I also have an autoimmune disease that’s exacerbated by stress, so I’m making a conscious effort to limit my news intake during this time. Being reminded of what’s going on via random emails and jokes is not helpful. Is there a way I can tell people to stop doing this or is this something I just have to deal with?

You’re probably not the only one who’s a bit sick of having news you didn’t ask for pushed on you — and the jokes seem like they risk coming off as especially tasteless to anyone whose friends or family have been touched more directly by the virus.

But it can be tricky to ask people to cut this out completely, because for many people, being able to share news and jokes is as anxiety-relieving for them as it is stressful for you. An easier way to approach it might be to propose a different avenue for these messages. Can you suggest a Slack channel for people who want to talk about the outbreak? An email list? You could say, “I’m finding it stressful to receive so many emails about the pandemic while I’m working. Would you be up for creating a Slack channel for it instead so people can opt in and people like me can opt out?”

How do I resign when I’m on furlough?

Like many people right now, I’m on furlough, as my employer’s revenue dropped significantly due to COVID-19. When my boss called me to let me know, he told me that he would like to invite me back when it’s over, but it’s not a guarantee and will depend on how the company weathers this storm. For this reason, I’ve decided to start looking for a new position that’s more stable. I work in finance, so I can do my job remotely, and there was a shortage of financial professionals in my area before the pandemic started, so I have a fair amount of opportunities.

If I land a new position, how should I let my boss know while I’m on furlough? Also, should I let them know I’m looking? And am I wrong for potentially leaving the company in a bad place if I’m not there to pick up my workload and train on the tools I was in the process of creating when things go back to the new normal?

When your company stops paying you and lets you know they can’t promise they’ll be able to rehire you, the only sensible thing to do is to job-search! So they shouldn’t be surprised that you’re looking, and, in fact, probably assume you are. But you don’t need to explicitly let them know (you never need to disclose that to an employer, even if you weren’t furloughed).

If you accept another job, at that point you can contact your boss and let them know. You don’t need to give notice since you’re not currently working. You’d just say something like, “I wanted to let you know I’ve accepted a new position, which I’ll be starting soon. I enjoyed working with you, and I’d love to stay in touch.”

And you’re absolutely not in the wrong to move on, even though it means you won’t be there to carry on your work when they bring people back. You can’t put your professional life — and your income — on hold without a guarantee of continued work. It’s not your company’s fault that they can’t give you that guarantee, but no reasonable person would expect you to wait around without a paycheck to see if maybe they’ll have work for you at some undetermined point in the future. When your company did furloughs, they understood this was a possible (even likely) outcome.

How do I even write a cover letter in the age of the coronavirus?

I started looking for a new job a few months ago. I’m still trying to apply to the few listings popping up, but I’m struggling with cover letters. My usual language seems too upbeat given the global pandemic. “I look forward to hearing from you” almost feels demanding when I know that people are scrambling and just trying to get by in these new circumstances. Should I adjust the tone of my cover letter? Is there a way to gracefully address that I know everything is a mess and I don’t expect things to be running in a normal timeline?

You’re overthinking it! “I look forward to hearing from you” is still fine to say. It’s not demanding in this context; it’s a pretty normal way to end a cover letter (and really, job candidates write it all the time without knowing if they’ll ever actually hear anything).

If it brings you peace of mind, you could write, “I’d welcome the opportunity to talk about the role whenever it’s convenient for you.” But you don’t need to spell out that you know people are scrambling or that you’re braced for delays. As long as you’re polite and don’t sound impatient — which includes not calling to check on your application days later — you’ll be fine. Hiring managers aren’t typically parsing cover letters that closely!

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    Empathy is so key here. My layoff was done via what felt like a script. “Your position has been eliminated. Your last day will be Friday. Please read the packet of information in your email.”

    Horrible and robotic. Treating people like people, with worries and feelings, will go a long way.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Ouch. That is a horrible way to let someone go. You’re absolutely correct – employers just need to treat people with empathy when they lay them off.

    2. The Original K.*

      My best friend was laid off recently. It was done over the phone, in a less than 5-minute conversation between her, her boss, and HR. Awful.

      When I was laid off, my boss spent the whole time talking about how hard it was FOR HIM, and to this day I regret not saying “But you still have a job.”

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        My husband’s coworker/friend (in a different department) got laid off a week before her wedding. Her manager later came up to him with tears in his eyes, talking about how hard it was for him to let her go, but he was glad he had been so kind to do it a week ahead of the wedding to “give her time to figure things out(?!?!)”. My husband looked him dead in the eyes and said “oh yes it must be sooooo hard for you, and not the person who lost her job and income right before one of the most expensive and stressful events in their life.”

        The manager was shocked, he had fully expected everyone to sympathize with him, and not the laid off coworker. Ass.

        (My husband’s coworker got a new job shortly after and is doing splendidly.)

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Your husband is awesome for that mic-drop line. And I’m so glad the coworker soon got another job.

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            He is! <3 He's so humble too, I only heard about it while we were out for drinks with some of his work friends, one of them relayed the story.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Clapping for your husband’s ability to respond so candidly to the awkward AF situation he was presented with.

          When I laid someone off, I knew damn well it was harder for them than it ever was for me. So I took my sorry butt to the supply room and had my personal breakdown/crying session. As a manager, you keep this kind of emotion to yourself or at best, within the management channels. You don’t just run to your friends/other coworkers because they have the same reaction [correct reaction that is] as your husband.

          1. DogTrainer*

            I like that you said it should be kept within management channels.

            Yes, everyone should feel worse for the employee that was let go, but comforting the leader who had to engage in something stressful is also acceptable. Especially because ignoring how stressful it was for the leader doesn’t make the situation any better for the employee. But, again, this support should come from appropriate channels.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Also to note that other managers have the ability to actually relate to the emotions. So they’re equip for comforting someone else in that same situation.

              Someone who has never been in that position to eliminate a position or let someone go, is going to default think of their personal circumstances.

              Heck I can’t even cry to my parents or partner because they have no reason to understand the stress some management decisions are and they will default take any employees side in many situations. Which makes sense if you really think about it. They only have their own experiences of having either been let go or having bad managers who suck etc, they also have that whole “well you’re paid well, therefore it comes with these heavy ass crosses.”

              1. OP 1*

                I really related to this comment thread here. It sucks for everyone, but feels good to know I’m not alone.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  You’re never alone. It’s important to feel these emotions as well.

                  It’s like medical professionals or the police reporting tragic news. Nobody likes it. It sucks.

                  If you do start becoming so callous it doesn’t hit you in the heart a little, you’ve been doing it too long.

          2. Greg*

            I just had to furlough half my team. It was ridiculously difficult (made less difficult by our ability to maintain their health coverage) but I also recognize that it is like being the husband in the delivery room: not an easy job but no one wants to hear about it.

          3. Symplicite*

            When I was laid off, it was not 2 months after my father had suddenly died.

            The Senior Manager was flown in from Overseas to do the process to 9 of us.

            Upon giving me the news, I said, “Wow, on top of my father’s death, this is quite the shock.”

            His response? “Yeah, I heard something about that.”

            In my exit interview, I “kindly” suggested that he get some sensitivity training, because as a Senior Manager, and only 4 levels away from the CEO of the entire global organization, he should have had a more sympathetic response than, “Yeah, I heard something about that.”

            1. allathian*

              I’m sorry for your loss. And yeah, that was callous. I’m glad you called him out on it in your exit interview.

              To be fair, my employer’s a very flat organization; I’m a subject-matter specialist, there’s my boss, her boss the department head and the next level up is the director of the agency, although lots of things are handled in projects, so there are reporting relationships between departments as well. But basically I’m 4 levels down from the top…

            2. CLC*

              Im sorry for your loss, of course it is very sad and its understandable that you were still upset/in shock. But it wasnt really relevant to you being laid off, im not sure what sort of response you were expecting to saying this?

              1. Symplicite*

                There are many phrases he could have used, but a very basic, “I’m sorry for your loss. You’re right; this is an added shock” etc could have been said. Or..” the timing of this on top of your father’s death must be difficult. Let me see if the EAP person can assist you…” etc.

                Be a human being when giving difficult news, instead of a robot. Suffice to say, he could bend over backwards in other ways, and my impression will always be of the ” Yeah, I heard something about that” along with the implied shrug.

                1. CLC*

                  The point of my comment was more that there was no need to bring up the death at all, it had nothing to do with being laid off. All it did was make an already difficult conversation extremely awkward.

      2. Mer*

        Ugh, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people giving bad news are taking it harder than the person receiving bad news. Like, you feel bad? Imagine how the person who lost their job feels. I have no doubt that it’s so hard to let someone go from their job, but deal with your sadness in private and keep it together when you’re talking to the person.

        1. selena81*

          if it seems like you want the person who received the bad news to comfort and re-assure the messenger than you are a very selfish messenger

      3. Frank Doyle*

        My best friend was laid off recently. It was done over the phone, in a less than 5-minute conversation between her, her boss, and HR. Awful.

        Sorry, but what is the awful part? Did she really want to be talking about being laid off for a half an hour? Five minutes actually seems like kind of a long time!

        1. allathian*

          I’d actually rather receive the news in writing. That way I wouldn’t need to worry about the other person’s feelings at all.

          1. selena81*

            There was a post recently about being turned down for jobs and i think the consensus was pretty much that most people prefer getting an email, some prefer a call, and there’s also a good chance the rejectee is just looking for something to be angry about.

            I wonder how everyone feels about that wrt getting laid off?
            I assume ‘in person’ in preferred as the first option, but what if that’s not a viable option?
            I myself would prefer a well-thought-out email over a phone-call: because i hate any difficult conversation where you know you won’t change the other person’s mind. And it won’t help if they stay on the phone for an hour talking about irrelevant stuff because they are too cowardly to make it a short conversation.

    3. Anon4this1*

      As bad as it may seem, sometimes leadership has to follow a strict script given to them from labor relations, HR, Legal. I have sat in on planning and heard first hand that mgmt. was to announce specifics and not ad any personal side notes. They were also told to make the announcement at exact times.

      After the announcements, the managers and the leadership team looked so drained. I also know they had spent lots of time trying to find ways to keep more people off the list.

      ….I know this doesn’t help; just wanted to point out that sometimes it cant be avoided.

      1. Roscoe*

        Yeah. I agree. Like, I was laid off and they made sure HR was in the room for quality control or whatever you want to call it. I’m pretty sure there were very specific things they were and weren’t allowed to say.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And to point out that if they do deviate from their “script”, they then are in line to be disciplined, including being terminated for going off script. I’ve seen that kind of God awful mandate before, it’s ugly and I’ve heard it’s more common than not a lot of places.

        That’s part of being in that management position, the stress of having to do another higher ups dirty work and to their specific guidelines because they’re like “If not, we’ll replace you too.”

      3. Jennifer*

        Yes, I honestly prefer the matter of fact phone call I received when I was laid off. I didn’t even know the lady who called. Nothing will make it better so just give me the information I need and I’ll get sympathy from the people I know that love me. She was kind but professional.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Seconding this. I’ve been part of large layoffs and we also had to stay on-script for valid reasons. The vast majority of the time, the people getting laid off handled the news with grace and professionalism. But they’re not really hearing everything, and certain words and phrases tended to stick with them.

        But some folks wanted to take out their anger on us, and the script probably saved someone from a literal black eye: it gave the manager something to focus on so they could detach from some scary, volatile emotions. We were also coached to not defend ourselves if someone who was losing their temper, or offer explanations, or use humor. And we definitely were not supposed to talk about how WE felt. Seriously, why would that matter?

        I’ve been part of scores of these events. It may sound inhumane or cold or calculated, but staying on-script really is the best way to handle the initial notification.

        1. selena81*

          no humor?
          that’s a part of the script i can definitely get behind, and i don’t want to know how they discovered the need for that direction

      5. Elaine L*

        Yeah the exact time is the end of the month so your health insurance ends that very day.

    4. Random IT person*

      “And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.”
      ― Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum

      This is what I think of when i read how some companies treat people.

  2. Anon for This*

    We had layoffs today. One of my of 3 staff was let go, and another had a reduction in hours.

    Thank you for this. I needed it.

  3. MissDisplaced*

    Mass layoffs are one of the worst things about being a manager aside from firing people.
    But here’s the thing: Because of the pandemic, the layoffs probably aren’t completely unexpected either. It’s not like the layoffs are happening out of the blue due to mismanagement of the nonprofit, bad decisions, or lack of donors, and certainly it it not due to poor work effort on the part of the staff. If there is any consolation or silver lining to this, at least there are currently some additional safety-nets in place such as extended UI benefits because the layoffs are a direct result of the pandemic. Perhaps some will say so what–you still lost your job–and that’s true. But in some states where UI is may only be 16 or 26 weeks, extended coverage can make all the difference to those who lose their job through no fault of their own.

    Be as kind as you can. Be sure to let them know they can and should file for unemployment benefits, and that you’ll provide references for them. Hopefully, once this ends, some can even be hired back.

    1. OP 1*

      Thank you for this (and to Allison). I really needed to hear it and it helps that I’ve been trying very hard to do what you, other commenters, and Allison all suggested. It just doesn’t feel like enough sometimes.

      1. cleo*

        Of course it doesn’t feel like enough. But in my one experience of being laid off, having my manager be compassionate while also being professional really did make it easier, although not easy. At least I was able to leave her office with my dignity intact

        1. BRR*

          I’m with cleo in that of course it doesn’t feel like enough. You seem like an incredibly caring human being who has to do something that literally cannot be pleasant. I was laid off by a manager who felt bad but not awful (I’m sure he slept fine that night) and at one point actually said to me while I was leaving that he was worried about what the three people who he was serving as interim manager for thought of him. “This is all they know me for.”

          I’ve also been fired by a manager who hated to have to do it and I still have the utmost respect for them. At this point in history, it’s far beyond whether or not your job is essential. Ending agreeing with cleo again, having a manager be compassionate while professional made it easier.

          1. OP 1*

            Thank you for the kind words. I hope that the people I had to speak with feel the same way you do about that second manager.

    2. Marthooh*

      Also, re: offering to be a reference—
      Take some time to go over the work each person did for you, and make notes of what you would say in a reference. Keep those notes on file for later use. Your employees’ strong points are present to your mind right now, in a way they may not be months or years in the future.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Good idea! I’d also say to connect with them on LinkedIn. You can actually directly give a recommendation on there. While maybe not quite so strong as a call from a prospective employer, it’s still very nice to have a former boss list your strengths on there.

        I also forgot. When I worked for a company that closed their whole operation in my state, I was given a very nice letter of recommendation from my manager. That may be little old-fashioned now though, so it depends on the industry if written letters are a thing.

        1. selena81*

          i’d say for most industries the linkedin recommendation is more useful than a letter: definitely a good idea, and an excellent opportunity to spell out their strengths (then put those ideas in a document in case anyone calls for a reference a few months from now)

      2. selena81*

        I don’t know if it’s any comfort but at least you can honestly assure them that the quality of their work was fine and you’ll be happy to be a reference.
        (i am assuming the ‘only essential workers’ part is mostly about choosing the best workers for a much smaller organisation rather than dumping sub-par employees)

  4. Jedi Squirrel*

    Laying people off at a time like this is a horrible situation to have to be in. The fact that OP feels bad about it is a sign that they are a compassionate, humane person.

    TBH, I would be more worried if they didn’t feel bad about it.

  5. Anon Today*

    Speaking from an organization that has handled layoffs/pay reductions incredibly badly, here’s what would have made it better for the folks who lost their income:

    1) Work with senior leadership to develop and communicate (as much as is possible and appropriate) a robust framework for how and why you are making decisions about which staff are cut. This should include things like: what is the current, urgent situation (e.g., we need to cut $150,000 by the end of the month in order to make payroll); what is your current analysis and understanding what the future could look like (e.g., we anticipate that virtually no sales will happen through the summer, but we’ll be back to at least 50% of usual sales by fall); what criteria you are using to determine which staff are cut (e.g., the basketball program can’t operate until social distancing ends, so we will lay off the coaches; the tutoring program can shift online so we will keep those staff on board); etc.

    2) Get your ducks in a row and make sure you have all the relevant information that your staff will need before you make decisions. Will your staff be eligible for unemployment? What should they do with the laptops they brought home? etc. My organization accidentally reduced everyone’s hours to juuuuuust above the trigger point that would make them eligible for unemployment. It was a mistake — they didn’t mean to block everyone from getting UI benefits — and they corrected it right away, but it was incredibly frustrating for those staff who spent a weekend panicked that they couldn’t get any benefits, and it frankly — and rightly — made everyone worried that the organization can’t be trusted and may end up screwing them over.

    3) Consider making other, visible cuts before (or least at the same time) you cut staff. If executive leadership isn’t taking at least a 20% pay cut/forgoing bonuses/etc., staff with reduced hours or layoffs are going to be pretty angry.

    4) Don’t make it worse for folks to stay on board than get laid off. Folks at my org who had their hours cut are now earning less than their colleagues who were laid off (because of the extra COVID unemployment benefits), and doing way more work.

    5) Try not to make the folks who are still working feel like it’s their job to save their jobs. It might be true, indirectly, but it’s a recipe for unimaginable stress and pain.

    1. Mama Bear*

      All good points.

      I very much agree with weighing reduction in hours vs layoff. A family member had a reduction in hours that meant working sometimes only a few hours a day and not really worth their time. I don’t know what the owner was thinking but it was worse than just being laid off. Downside is that for many people health insurance is tied to jobs so if you have to do anything that impacts insurance right now, have all the info they need available re: COBRA (ugh, $$) or any kind of state insurance options.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      If executive leadership isn’t taking at least a 20% pay cut/forgoing bonuses/etc., staff with reduced hours or layoffs are going to be pretty angry.


      1. selena81*

        This cannot be repeated enough!!
        If upper management wants to keep any loyalty they need to show *everyone* is making real sacrifices.

    3. anon for this*

      This is all fantastic advice. I would be careful, though, giving too much of an idea of what the future could look like. It’s not at all clear when most of the US will be able to get back to something like “normal” or what the continuing economic consequences will be even when that moment arrives, so I’d use performance benchmarks rather than time benchmarks — “we anticipate being able to bring back some sales staff once sales reach 50% of normal” rather than “we expect sales to rebound to 50% by fall.” People really want to believe this will end quickly, and you don’t want to give false hope — if I were furloughed and told I would likely be able to come back in September, I would probably live on my savings; if I were told the furlough ends when X and Y part of our business rebounds, I would be looking more aggressively for another job.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      #4 – while this may be true, those who are laid off are having to wait at least a month to receive any benefits and the extra money is only temporary. It may seem like a better situation at first, but it’s not in the long term. And nobody knows how long this will all last.

      1. Anon Today*

        Oh, good point.

        I left out key information that’s relevant to my organization and not (necessarily) to others: we will be having more substantial layoffs in the summer. So some number of the folks who are still working will be losing their jobs in July (in my department, it is very likely everyone; the decisions aren’t final, but the current thinking is to eliminate the department entirely) — after the extra COVID benefits expire. So these folks are working more hours, earning less money than their laid off colleagues, and will be in the exact same situation in the end: laid off in the middle of the worst unemployment crisis in history, without the padding from the COVID benefits.

    5. Sled dog mama*

      Agree so much with #2. I was let go from a job last fall (they want to say they fired me but based on the falling number of clients for 2 years and the fact that I wrote the policy they accuse me of violating….) anyway getting any info from HR was a nightmare, like to the point I nearly asked if this person was new or just an idiot. Every single question was met with “I don’t know” or “it might be under this on the website”. Zero concept that they had told me only to contact that specific person in HR and had incorrectly cut off my access to the website.
      I’m quite happy to be out of that place since they just cut salary across the board by 30% and probably would have taken the corona virus as opportunity to lay me off. Me? I found a new job in less than 2 weeks and got a 35% raise (partly due to Alison’s excellent advice and partly due to being severely underpaid)

    6. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      This is not great advice.

      #3 is usually done for the benefit of clients and business associates, not the staff. Your suggestion is also completely arbitrary. A 20% cut might have a huge impact or it might have little impact and there should be no expectation that an executive must share what they’re earning with subordinates to justify a business decision.

      #1 is asking for an organization to set up a timeline to recovery. Doing so gives employees false expectations on when they can start to be returned to whole. I don’t disagree with giving an outline of how things are going to go down, but I would avoid giving too many specifics. It’s not reasonable to justify every position retained to those being furloughed or laid off.

      #2 it’s nice that your company is willing to make adjustments so that employees can benefit from assistance programs, but they should be making decisions based on business necessity.

      #4 it’s hard to say that the increased UI benefits are unfair for those still working. People still working at least have the security of a job (granted, for now), they’ve retained the rest of their benefits. While many have been left with wages too low, it’s hard to say that the UI benefit is an indication of where they should be. Also, the enormity of aid packages going out right now likely means that inflation will become an issue.

      #5 you certainly should guilt an employee, but it’s also important that expectations be laid early and clear. A reduced workforce would mean that the remaining employees would have higher expectations. It sucks for the employee, but isn’t necessarily something the company has done wrong.

      This time really sucks, but it’s important that we keep our wits about us and maintain a level head.

    7. JessB*

      Wow, these are really practical tips, great comment.
      And I’m sorry you’ve had a tough time.

  6. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP #4 (writing cover letters):

    Our sense of normal is so skewed right now. But we will eventually get back to normal, or at least a new normal. Someday this will all be five years ago.

    I imagine hiring managers are probably seeing some pretty bizarre* things right now. A regular old professionally written cover letter would be quite welcome if that’s the case.

    *Not sure if that is the right word—maybe “unusual” works better.

  7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I would say resigning while on furlough is really not much different than resigning while working. I wouldn’t let them know you’re looking – honestly unless they’re brain dead they should expect it since people need a paycheck to survive. The only difference is that you wouldn’t have to give standard notice. I would ask if there’s anything they need you to do (like you would in any notice period), and make sure they’re willing to pay you for the work if it exceeds an amount of time you perceive as reasonable. Good luck with your search.

  8. Colette*

    Some thoughts on layoffs:
    – First of all, of course you feel bad for laying people off! That’s normal and expected – but laying people off now is presumably happening so that the organization survives and provides jobs for people in a month or a year. You’re not doing it to punish them or to harm them; it’s tough but necessary.
    – Many people have been laid off before. (I’ve been laid off 3 times.) And many more people are being laid off now. Most people will be OK, and some will end up better off in the long rung. This is not something to say to someone you’re laying off – but realize that this is (for many people) a temporary setback.
    – Be clear. When do benefits end? What severance are you offering? How should they return computer or other work equipment? How will they get any personal stuff they left at the office?
    – Show that you recognize them as a person, but don’t talk about how hard it is for you. You are not their problem. If you would be glad to be a reference, tell them that. If you want to connect on LinkedIn or pass on their resume to contacts or would be willing to review their resume to help them make it stronger, tell them that. If they have access to an EAP or outplacement service, remind them of that.
    – Give them contact information for any questions they have going forward (info for unemployment, final paycheck, getting stuff from the building, etc.)

  9. a nonnie nonnie non*

    I have been laid off twice. Both times my manager were very empathetic and visibly upset. Just be human, and say how much you regret having to lay them off. Having my managers react as a human helped lessen the blow. In one instance one was more upset than I was. I am not saying to get super upset in front of them, but showing you are sorry and feel for the situation helps.

    Also have a packet of info on how to collect unemployment will help.

  10. thatoneoverthere*

    If they will eligible for unemployment (which most likely they are, but could vary by situation) have info available. A lot of people don’t realize they can collect unemployment. I have told many a friend (I graduated from college in 07) that got laid off to collect benefits and they thought UE wasn’t available to them. They were shocked it was and it helped ease some stress.

  11. Yep*

    Every time I’ve been laid off, I’ve ended up in a better place. Unsure why people act like it’s the end of the world. Being a single mom for years, I learned to live below my means, we didn’t have a TV for years let alone cable and didn’t miss it, no fancy cell phones, etc… Save for a rainy day, have a back up plan, chill

    1. Colette*

      For some people, it is the end of the world (or at least the start of a very difficult financial situation) – and you don’t know which one it will be at the start of the layoff period. Particularly now, with the general situation being so unsure, there’s no way to know whether you will find a new job before your money runs out. It’s normal to be worried about what will happen.

      IME, most people bounce back and find something else – sometimes a similar job, sometimes a totally different career. But some don’t. Some end up long-term unemployed, or get sick and can’t work, or get a job that doesn’t allow them to financially recover from the blow.

    2. Works in IT*

      Yes, being laid off into the worst recession since the Great Depression is guaranteed to be a stepping stone to a better place. Saving $100 on a month by not having internet at home (my internet is tied to the cable, can’t lose one without the other) and therefore being unable to job hunt from home is such a good plan, and will allow one to afford their $1k a month rent after being laid off. Naturally employers don’t expect prospective job candidates to be able to check email on their phones, data plans aren’t needed! I never would have guessed.

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      I guess you’re assuming that everybody being laid off is living above their means. I’m sure some of them are, and they are learning that lesson hard, but your comment is incredibly dismissive of anyone who is working hard, being frugal, and still struggling to make ends meets—and there are a lot of people out there in that situation.

      Have some compassion.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Compassion and empathy seems to be lost based on a lot of comments I’ve been seeing on this site recently.

    4. French Four*

      Wow. What an unhelpful and self-centred comment. Do you really have so little capacity for empathy? How sad for you.

    5. Super Anon*

      I’m very glad for you that you ended up in a better place. For many people being laid off is a blessing in disguise. However, for just as many (if not more) they never recover financially. I have a reasonably healthy savings account. With enhanced unemployment for 4 months, and then regular unemployment after that, I could probably survive for 9-10 months. Which, I think is much better than many people. But, many people in the Great Recession were out of work for 18+ months. There was a reason that unemployment went to 99 weeks.

    6. a nonnie nonnie non*

      Some people also really enjoy their jobs and work. I worked for a long time in jobs I hated and had this exact sentiment. However a few years ago,I landed a job, I love, I am good at, have great co-worker and benefits. I would be very upset if I lost this job. I worked a long time, in terrible, terrible jobs, being upset is valid.

    7. blaise zamboni*

      This prospect makes me sad for you because none of us should have to live this way. My mom was a single mom who bounced back and counted all her pennies (and our pennies) to make sure we stayed afloat. I admire her determination and money-savvy, and I appreciate how much she sacrificed. But more than that, it makes me furious that she was forced to do that in our world of incredible wealth and excess. She’s 70 and still can’t relax enough to enjoy “nice” things–the last time she bought a frivolous gift for herself, she beat herself up for her ‘stupidity’ for two years afterwards. What is the point of all the work we do, for the majority of our lives, if not to enjoy the amazing things humanity has developed and preserved? At least a little, some of the time? There is more than enough money and resources in the world. There is no biological imperative for us to work and scrimp until we die. That is a human invention and we should all reject it heartily.

    8. selena81*

      when was this? in the ’80s?
      and as someone who grew up poor i feel pretty confident saying your children probably hated it and were embarrassed over their cheapskate mom
      (lots more things i want to say that would definitely not get past the ‘no personal attacks’ rule)

  12. natter*

    I work at a nonprofit. The organization is still going because the service we provide is essential. But my role in it isn’t essential, and I know this. I’d have to be deluded not to know this. There are people in my organization who physically do the service work out in the field, and there are people who produce flyers and slap logos on things. I know I’m in the latter category. We haven’t done layoffs (yet?) but if we need to, I’d fully expect my job to be in the first wave. It’s not about me, it’s about the role.

    Which is my long way of saying, people are unlikely to be totally blindsided by this. Especially in the nonprofit world, where you never really have the luxury of assuming the money will be there next year, never mind during a crisis. Sure, don’t use the phrase “not essential” (it IS harsh, and not really necessary), but take heart that you’re not telling them something they haven’t already grappled with. Laying people off is hard enough – don’t put more on your shoulders than needs to be there.

  13. anonymous for this one*

    OP, I really feel you. I manage a nonprofit that is both (accurately) deemed essential and at risk of not having the funds to cover our literally life-saving work. Between worrying about the work and worrying about the money and worrying about taking care of staff… that’s a lot of worry.

    It sounds like you’re in a situation where, even though it’s a non-profit, you’ve got a corporate structure where you are being told from above that you must make these cuts, and I hope you can recuse yourself from feeling personally responsible for them.

    I wasn’t able to see Allison’s reply to this one, due to the paywall, but in the past she strongly condemned a more collective approach to making cuts. It does sound like, in that case, the managers did it all wrong by asking folks to vote for who gets laid off. But I do want to speak up — for those of us with enough power in our orgs to make it happen — for a more collective decision-making process, at least for nonprofits (where nobody is making money from the labor of others and where everybody is dedicated to the mission).

    Here’s what’s happened already here, as it became clear that donations were dropping:

    Of course, we cut all non-essential spending.

    I’ve already, as a matter of fiscal prudence, cut my own salary to the absolute minimum I can live on.

    Our highest-paid (and only other salaried) staff member came to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that she wants me to do the same for her salary before I even think about cutting wages or hours for the hourly workers.

    The highest-paid of the hourly workers came to tell me that she could afford a temporary pay cut, if that would help me to not have to cut the wages of someone making less.

    A married couple who both work here signaled that they would volunteer to take alternating lay-offs if necessary, so that all staff households would continue to have work.

    If it comes down to it, I will honor the requests of the two who volunteered to take voluntary pay cuts before thinking about cutting pay or hours for those who earn less.

    If it does come down to layoffs or lowered hours, then we would meet as a group to figure out how many staff hours are needed to do the things that absolutely must get done each day and each week and then we would discuss what we think would be the most fair way of allocating those hours. I would not abdicate my responsibility to make the difficult decisions, but I would do so only after we came to an agreement about fairness — which, I believe, based on what I know of these folks, is going to be about things like making sure everybody (including those served by our organization) has what they need rather than adhering to some arbitrary rule like seniority.

    In summary, capitalism — with its class hierarchies and its callousness about who gets hurt by rules — is partly to blame for the crisis we are in. I hope we never go back to “business as usual” and I hope we seize, however we can, opportunities to imagine new and more caring ways of being in relationship to one another, including in the workplace.

    1. natter*

      These are some good points. I also work at a nonprofit, and I would be 100% fine with being laid off, furloughed or reduced-hours right now, if needed, to help serve our clients. My husband has a stable job that we can live on – so it’s much better that it happen to me than someone who needs the salary to survive.

      I would really hope if we get to layoffs that this would be taken into account by leadership.

      1. Colette*

        I don’t agree that leadership should make decisions based on who needs the work – that kind of thing is hard to tell from the outside (since they don’t know your financial commitments) and also leads to things like “oh, we should keep Bob instead of Sue because he has a family.”

        But if you are OK with being laid off, it’s OK to say that to the people making the decision.

        1. Sleepy*

          In principle, I totally agree with you. On the other hand, it’s tricky to handle in practice…I work at a nonprofit and I happen to know that my boss’s wife earns a 7-figure salary (would rather not know that, but it was shared with me by accident). I would be very upset if other other staff salaries / hours were cut before his, even though, yes, his position is more essential than others’. We work at a small org where it’s impossible not to have some idea of what people “need” just based on knowing some minimal facts about their lives from water-cooler chatter. It’s kind of an extreme example and he’s probably the type of thoughtful person who would volunteer to cut their own salary, but not everyone in his situation would.

          However, yeah, using externals is a really bad idea generally to make those decisions. I have a friend with no kids but she’s saving money to single-handedly support her two special-needs siblings after her parents retire, which is incredibly expensive. Her boss doesn’t necessarily know that.

          1. Colette*

            By the same token, when I was first laid off, someone said to me “at least you have no responsibilities” – which, you know, I’m sure my mortgage company/utilities/etc. would have disagreed with.

            There are plenty of people who make a lot of money and spend a lot of money. They need to eat, too – and not every thing you can buy can be readily turned into cash.

          2. Amaranth*

            Keep in mind, however, you only have a partial snapshot of their lives from watercooler gossip, where a lot of things are shaded or omitted for drama and privacy. Your boss and wife could be on the cusp of divorce, have huge health or college bills, or she might be in danger of being laid off. I agree its not correct to use externals as basis for layoffs. Asking for people to privately approach you if they can volunteer to temporarily take less pay or hours is a terrific idea.

          3. selena81*

            I do not have children or a mortgage but i am putting my little brother through college and easing the poverty of my other close relatives (i am the first-generation student of the family and managed to get a reasonably well-paid job).

            I think there’s something to be said for ‘start by cutting the people who have other options’ (happened in the 1930s: married women were fired to create more jobs for husbands so each couple at least had one job between them), but you can’t always easily see who really needs their job and for whom it’s just a paid hobby

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      In summary, capitalism — with its class hierarchies and its callousness about who gets hurt by rules — is partly to blame for the crisis we are in.

      Yes, I really hope we can make some permanent, meaningful changes to the way we do things. It’s going to take time, though.

      1. selena81*

        Universal Basic Income!!
        (if we keep giving free money to failing companies we might as well give it to all citizens)

  14. Dagny*

    If your employees did good work, offer to be a reference for them in their job hunt. If you have any time between the announcement of the layoff and their actual departure, have them put together a list of their accomplishments, send it along to you, and you can have that at the ready when you get a reference check from a potential employer.

  15. Elizabeth Proctor*

    I don’t know if this is viable for you, but depending on how your health insurance policies work, consider keeping people on until May 1 so they are covered through the end of May.

    My husband’s employer is doing layoffs and their policy is that you’re covered through the end of the month. I’m due with a baby in May, so we are really hoping if he’s on the list (and we’re assuming he will be) that he is still employed by them on May 1, otherwise we’ll use and pay for COBRA for a month before switching to my employer’s not-as-good insurance policy.

  16. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    Couldn’t read the article. “You’ve reached your monthly article limit.”

    1. Fiona*

      Yes, that’s normal. It’s a magazine that needs to pay its journalists. If you want to read the content, pay the subscription fee. If not, there’s plenty of other free content on Alison’s site.

      1. selena81*

        well, i’ve definitely used all the tricks referenced in the other comments, but i agree with your principle and i have picked some websites that i visit often enough to warrant a subscription

      1. Lurking Gardener*

        Clear your browsing history. Then you should be able to access the article. Same happened to me, I cleared cache and cookies, and I can access it now. It’s still the same month.

      2. ...*

        You really shouldn’t to that. Its not fair to the websites that are trying to pay their journalists.

  17. Name (Required)*

    Seeing so many great stories here about how not to handle layoffs. Wish my old company could have seen some of these.

  18. I'm just here for the cats*

    Could anyone else not read this article? I followed the link and it said I had reached my limit for free articles.

  19. pureoaknut*

    I’d love to read this article, but New York Magazine continues to tell me I have reached my free limit and it won’t let me read it. :(

Comments are closed.