Reducing your workforce through a series of layoffs is never easy. Laid off employees and their families suffer. The employees that remain become frightened for their own prospects and upset for their former colleagues. Managers scramble to figure out how to hit their targets with a reduced staff.
Something that often gets lost throughout the process of making these decisions, however, is how to move forward with the reduction in force safely. Terminations can often lead to workplace violence, which is something that you need to prepare for.
Below, we’ll outline exactly what the danger of not planning is and outline the steps you need to take in order to minimize any risk.
The Danger of Not Planning
It’s impossible to tell when a laid off employee is going to resort to violence, but the risk of failing to prepare is enormous. In 2008, for example, a man named Jing Wu was laid off from his position as an engineering at SiPort, Inc. He left the building and returned several hours later, asking for a quick meeting with several executives. During the meeting, he fatally shot all three of them and was arrested the day after.
Another similar incident occurred in 2012 when Andrew Engeldinger was relieved of his duties at Accent Signage. After being fired, he went on a rampage that found the company owner and five former colleagues dead. When his violent assault completed, he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
The likelihood of the same thing happening at your company might be small, but it’s real. Studies show that violence in the workplace is on the rise, and that one in six violent incidents in the U.S. occurs at work. If you fail to prepare properly, you’re putting your employees at risk. Should anything violent take place, you could even be financially liable.
It’s impossible to completely eradicate the risk of workplace violence, especially during a period of layoffs. By taking the steps outlined below, however, you’ll be taking every precaution possible:
Step 1 – Communicate Issues Beforehand
If your employees have the feeling that layoffs could be forthcoming ahead of time, they’ll already have had time to do things like reaching out to former colleagues, touch up their resume, and send out a couple applications. On the other hand, if you’re too direct with your intentions, you could end up losing employees that you hadn’t planned on laying off.
The best way to balance this is by simply always being honest about your company’s performance. If employees know that the company has been facing issues, they won’t be completely blindsided. Most importantly, they’ll know that it isn’t a personal decision, making it more likely that they’ll keep their emotions in check.
Step 2 – Boost Security Without Flaunting It
If you’re planning on laying off one or two employees, you can simply put your typical security staff on alert. If you’re planning a larger reduction, on the other hand, you may want to bring in some temporary assistance. The more security you have, the quicker you can respond to any incidents.
Keep in mind that it’s important not to make the extra security obvious. You don’t want to insult your employees by insinuating that you think they’ll turn into a problem. If they’re being civil, you can allow them to gather their things, say their quick goodbyes, and leave without being escorted. Simply place security strategically in key areas, allowing them to observe for threats without actively engaging anybody unless necessary.
Step 3 – Notify Employees Quickly and Personally
Whether you’re laying off an entire team or a single employee, they deserve your respect and consideration. The decision needs to be relayed to them by somebody they know and trust – their direct manager. You also need to make sure that yourself, or another member of HR, is in the room with them. By maintaining the numbers advantage, you’ll be able to further discourage a violent outburst.
It’s also important to keep the meeting as brief as possible. You want to take the time to explain the situation and answer any questions that the employees have, but you don’t want it to last for too long. Firing somebody is like ripping off a bandaid – the quicker you take care of it the quicker the pain goes away. 15 minutes should be more than enough to deliver the news, answer any questions, and send the employee on their way.
Step 4 – Provide Complimentary Services Offsite
Providing professional services for employees who have been laid off is a terrific gesture and goes a long way towards keeping things safe and civil. Some good ideas include:
- Access to career consultants who can help your employees prepare their resumes and create a strategy for finding a new position.
- Educational programs to help your employees develop the skills necessary to land their next position.
- Provide outplacement specialists who can help your employees extend their medical coverage, apply for unemployment, and offer counseling.
It’s important to recognize that these services must be provided off site. You cannot give your laid off employees a reason to return to your office after they have been let go. Rent a temporary office to provide these services or work with consultants who have offices of their own. Once they have been let go, they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to stew and home and then return for any reason whatsoever.
It’s clear that minimizing the threat of violence during periods of workforce reduction is both important and difficult.
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