The great layoffs and the role of communications/communicators

If the pandemic gave rise to the great resignations, the gloomy recession outlook is paving the way for great layoffs.

Never before has the tech industry witnessed mass layoffs to the scale that we are seeing now. Amazon plans to lay off roughly 1% of its global workforce. Meta (the erstwhile FaceBook) has already downsised its workforce by a whopping 13%. And then, we have Twitter, which laid off nearly half of its global workforce. Snapchat is not far behind; it has already confirmed it will layoff 20% of its workforce.

The layoff phenomenon is now cascading into the Startup industry. Two days ago, Zomato announced its plans to layoff nearly 3% of its employees.

Of course, the major reason behind all these trimmings is profitability. And people costs make up the major chunk of cost for any organisation. In other words, layoff is one of the easiest methods to trim the organisation and save on ballooning costs. ‘Corporate restructuring’ is in and how!

Layoffs as a reputational risk

While it is always the employees who face the brunt of the so-called corporate restricting strategy, reputation of the organisation is also at stake here. A good company is known not only by how they treat their hired employees but by also how they treat them during their exit process. The organisational culture plays a pivotal role here in ensuring compassion, kindness, empathy, and provision of a support system to help laid off workers transition into a new phase.

After the mass layoffs by Twitter, only 1% of its employees believed that the organisation treated its people with fairness and empathy. Whereas, at Meta, nearly 55% believed that the company acted with care and compassion.

A layoff can change the perception of the company as ‘employer of choice’, as witnessed in the case of Twitter.

Communicators have a big role to play here in ensuring the organisation treats employees fairly and that the exit system provides an ecosystem support that hand holds a former employee for a period of few months. A layoff can be a traumatic experience, especially for performers who are laid off for no apparent fault of theirs.

Role of communications/communicators

Corporate communicators can bring in a sense of purpose in the mayhem that can be unleashed amidst mass layoffs. It all begins by ensuring the communicator has a seat at the table with HR and the business leads. Keeping employees first has to be the credo and all communication needs to follow from therein.

Communicators need to be sensitive and sensitised towards internal rumors. News travel fast, especially news that mention downsizing. It is imperative that the right message is timed at the right time. Time is of essence here. Followed by the right message.

Downsizing announcements should always be top driven followed by closed, small, intimate managerial discussions with respective teams. The communications team can lead and design the overall messaging and also support consistent narrative across functions and teams.

This leads to clear messaging, which also translates to showing respect for the employees. Humanising the whole journey by being humble, kind, and compassionate ensures there is a healthy dialogue in place. Once again, it is the communicator who can weave this whole narrative together and ensure it is tightly held and shared equally across the organisation.

The second piece is the handling of external communications. It does not take long for the media and other external stakeholders to get a whiff of mass layoffs. Gone are the days when the internal messaging would be different from what was shared with the media. Today, it is consistent messaging that matters the most. External stakeholders, that include investors, need to know the rationale behind the layoffs and how the organisation plans to move and grow beyond this phase. Building a communication plan that touches all layers of leadership therefore becomes a critical function of communicators. Being authentic and transparent play an important role here.

Layoffs are never easy. Not even for companies and their leaders. How an organisation treats layoffs can have a big impact on its reputation.

A proper, solid communication plan that takes care of employees as well as external stakeholders can go a long way in protecting the reputation of the company as well as showing up with compassion and kindness.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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