Handling Layoffs for the First Time
2 July, 2021
The first time that I had to lay members of my own team off has to have been some of the most difficult professional decisions that I have ever had to make.
Some context: Edmodo was acquired by a public company in China in late 2017. Post-acquisition, the plan was to consolidate different teams and move most of the engineering functions to China.
As teams started to be built in China, a series of layoffs followed. These layoffs created a lot of uncertainty and fear amongst everyone remaining. In the final round, we were asked to lay off sixty percent of the US office’s engineering team. It was really tough for us as managers, and we had no say in the matter. We were basically told to let our people go.
While the layoff plan was formulated, I made a lot of effort to save some of my team members. I reached out to several folks in our management team. In each instance, I was told that the ship had already sailed.
I had never laid off somebody before. To prepare for this, I did a lot of reading. I figured out exactly how I would break the news to each person. I reached out to people in my network to get advice on how they handled the situation. As an example, a close friend of mine who works in a very large corporate company walked me through their process.
Then came the day. I woke up and tried to put myself into a strong position to do it. Every conversation started with the bad news, that it was their last day. Next, I talked about their severance and the other logistical details for offboarding.
In each conversation, I brought as much empathy as I could to the conversation. I apologized for being the one to break the news to them. I reminded them of their strengths and of the contributions they made to the team. I offered to help with their job search in the coming days and weeks.
Later in the day, I had to share this news with the rest of my team. People were very upset. This was tough; within only a few hours, I had to transition from the stressful experience of laying off team members to holding up the flag and trying to keep everyone remaining strong.
In the days following, I organized several meetings for everyone to share how they were processing the situation and also to share my own thoughts. I made an extra effort when communicating with everyone via one-on-ones and group meetings. We started moving the discussion forward, to other ongoing projects, team goals, and individual goals – everything that did not change during all of the madness before.
- It sucks to do layoffs. Always have empathy and treat everyone with respect.
- Post-layoffs, take it easy on deliverables for a few days.
- Focus on reaching out to everyone and checking in frequently.
- It's not a one-size-fits all approach. Everyone reacts differently and each individual will need different levels of communication and support.
- The most challenging aspect is how to cope, as a team, with what remains after the layoffs. It’s very emotional when these connections are broken.
Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader
Nikita Ostrovsky, Sr. Manager. Site Reliability Engineering at Peloton Interactive explains how he overcame confrontation with leadership over an organizational vision, respectfully communicating with customers and engineers.
Head of Infrastructure and Site Reliability at Patreon
Ersin Yilmaz, Founder at ManagersApp, describes a successful feedback loop and the importance of regular performance reviews.
Founder at ManagersApp
Joe Leung, Founder and Product Leader at Bootstrapping Tools, explores his process of knowing when and how to let a team member go.
Product Leader || Founder of Bootstrapping Tools | currently at Thrasio
Jan Pieczykolan, Software Engineering Director, advises how he handled an unexpected termination of an outsourcing contract and addressed people's fears to finish cooperation in a mutually beneficial way.
Head of IT Development at Santander Bank Polska
Anurag Jain, a leader at Fortinet, delivers his tactic for reducing reliance on annual reviews and focusing on a regular feedback loop involving one-on-ones.
Leadership Role at Fortinet