How should an organization go about planning for a reduction in force, or RIF? Certainly, there are a number of considerations that need to go into the planning process, including coordinated upfront planning, the number of impacted personnel, the identification of high-risk individuals in the impacted employees, and more.
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser provides perspective on his experience with reductions in force – and the key planning elements that companies must take to ensure the safety and security of their employees and organization.
Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, principal and CEO here at Bryghtpath, and I’m running solo today for this week’s podcast where we’re going to talk about mass terminations and layoffs or reductions in force, to use a term that’s really used more frequently nowadays.
Bryan Strawser: I want to talk through the whole cycle of how do you plan for a mass layoff or reduction in force, how do you keep people safe during the process and how do you monitor the reactions of individuals? As we head into this discussion, I think it’s important to point out that as we think about reductions in force or even small scale layoffs, these are very impactful events on not just the individuals who are affected in terms of being laid off and having their job taken away, but it also impacts the entire team and organization.
Bryan Strawser: Because that person that you may have worked with for years and had done a role on the team that you’re a part of, is now gone. And so these are very disruptive events, and although as a security professional or an HR professional listening to this podcast, you have a role to play in terms of planning the process and executing upon the process. Let’s not forget throughout all of this that these are individuals who have likely done a very good job for your organization. They are a team mate to others in your organization.
Bryan Strawser: And there are ways to do this, ways to execute this reduction in force that allows them to maintain their dignity as a human. And that’s part of what we want to make sure happens through this process, because in the end, if you treat these folks right throughout the process, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for them in terms of the impact on them, but treating them with dignity and respect throughout the process will minimize the number of incidents and blow back that you receive as you work through this.
Bryan Strawser: You can do this in a humane and dignified manner. So let’s talk about that. Certainly the leadership of a business decides that you’re going to have a reduction in force. It may be dictated by market conditions, it might represent the failure of a project or a strategic initiative or an expansion, but your business leadership decides to execute a reduction in force and decides who is going to be impacted by this and launches a planning effort.
Bryan Strawser: The most important folks that are involved in this planning effort are the leaders of the impacted business, your security team and your human resources team. If you do not have human resources and security… And for that matter, you also need communications. If you do not have these three representatives or an outside resource that can act in that role, then you do not have the right people at the table in order to execute this in the right way.
Bryan Strawser: You do not have the right people at the table to plan and execute this if you don’t have the business leaders, HR, security and communications at the table. You cannot do this the right way without those expertise, without that expertise at the table. So first, that’s who you need to involve. You may have other functions, you might need facilities to help plan rooms, you may need to do some different things, but you need to have those folks there.
Bryan Strawser: You need to include them and start the planning as far out as possible in order to get the plans in place that you need. And as a part of this, the security organization needs to really work closely with human resources on the safety plan on how you’re going to do the mass layoff, the reduction in force, in a way that you’re treating people the right way. But you’re also taking the time to identify up front, are there individuals that may need to be handled differently because of previous behavior or disciplinary aspects, disciplinary actions that may have been taken in the past.
Bryan Strawser: So in other words, you’re looking at the individuals that are being impacted by this reduction in force, and you’re determining if you need to handle some of them in a different way. As you are planning for this, there’s a number of factors to consider. Think about how you’re going to communicate the reduction in force to the impacted employees that are being let go.
Bryan Strawser: There are ways to do this, and again, some of this comes down to your corporate culture and what level these individuals are. It’s not unusual in some situations to tell an entire team at once that that’s happening and then pull them individually into rooms to talk about their specific pay and benefit situation and allow them the chance to interact with someone.
Bryan Strawser: I would say the most common way that this has done is you have some type of group discussion by department or team and the business leader makes the communication to them that there’s going to be a reduction in force and that everyone in the room is impacted and that there are going to be representatives from HR immediately available, one-on-one, to walk through the situations and then folks move into individual rooms and kind of work through that.
Bryan Strawser: If you do have individuals that you consider high risk as a part of this reduction in force because of previous threats or violent behavior, disciplinary action of some type, or unique situations, then I would break the news to them privately as opposed to putting them in front of a group like this where there’s more likelihood for some type of outburst or incident to occur. So you’re kind of using a risk based approach here on how you’re managing that.
Bryan Strawser: You also want to think about some other key questions for planning are, will you allow them to go back to their desk and pack up their things? Will you allow them to have access to email or other systems? When is the reduction in force being implemented? Most of the time this takes immediate effect. It is, I think, more dignified in most cases to allow folks to return to their desks and pack up their personal belongings and say goodbye to their teammates and do that kind of thing.
Bryan Strawser: But at the same time you also run the risk of additional disruption or the loss of intellectual property. If they have access to email, for example, they may be able to do mass emails or email intellectual property out to other accounts and things like that. So these are considerations I think you have to think about. I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong way to approach allowing them to go back to their workspace or what have you.
Bryan Strawser: I’ve seen it done both ways. I think it’s more dignified and leads to less issues if you let them return to their workspace, even if there’s a security officer to supervise what’s going on, but allow them to pack up their belongings and then bring that… Take them home and go through that whole thing. But you will definitely want to think about, do you want them to be able to do that?
Bryan Strawser: And you’ll also want to think about systems access. In a good coordinated plan you can cut off their systems access while they’re in the meeting being informed of the reduction in force. But again, this just depends on what your needs are as you’re making the plans for this. In the meetings, it is not necessary to have security in a one-on-one meeting with someone unless there’s some type of high risk situation, which we’ll talk about.
Bryan Strawser: But you do want a security professional in the room when the reduction in force is being announced. Their role is to monitor the group for reactions and determine are there risk factors that are now present now that the group has been informed of the reduction in force. They’re also there to help manage the reactions of individuals. I think you also want to think about for your high risk conversations or conversations with individuals that are not taking the news of the reduction in force well, what’s your plan for response to that?
Bryan Strawser: It’s not unusual to have law enforcement available in these situations, but often just a calm, organized security professional that is able to use deescalation methods to talk the individual down in the conversation will be really valuable and should be incorporated into your plan. You also want to make sure that folks that are being released have access to resources, not just what the law requires.
Bryan Strawser: Many states require retraining and placement assistance and some of those kinds of things in large layoffs, but also just what’s the right thing to do to help folks that are being let go in terms of access to your company’s EAP plan. A lot of things you can communicate in that one-on-one discussion after the initial reduction notification. A lot of things can be covered in that discussion, particularly around benefits and pay that will put people’s minds at ease, because that’s where they’re going to go, “Oh gosh, when’s my last paycheck and how much I going to get? What about my healthcare? What about my education benefits?”
Bryan Strawser: These are all things that are going through their minds as they’re being notified that they’re being let go in this reduction in force. So again, these are opportunities to do the right thing and make sure you’re providing resources for those individuals. And then again that you’re monitoring between the HR and the security personnel there, you’re monitoring to see reactions and where you may need to intervene. I can’t emphasize enough in the planning and execution of these types of reductions in force, there has to be a good working relationship between security and human resources.
Bryan Strawser: The communications team plays a role here in terms of making sure that the right internal and external… Externally facing communications are being managed, but this whole interaction with the team about notifying them and the reduction of force and then notifying the broader organization of the reduction in force and making sure this is done in a manner that everyone is safe and folks are treated well and in a dignified manner throughout this.
Bryan Strawser: It really comes down to that relationship, in my mind, between security and human resources in the planning and execution of an event like this. As we said at the top of the podcast, I believe this can be done and I have seen this done in a calm, mature manner where folks are respected and they’re handled in a dignified way. It’s important that that happens.
Bryan Strawser: That is your best route to ensure that you get the response that you’re looking for from individuals and you minimize the potential risk of violence. That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. We’ll be back next week with both our BryghtCast edition and another deep dive into a topic related to global risk, crisis management, business continuity, and crisis communications. Thanks for listening.