- Elizabeth Lampert
Handling layoffs from a PR/crisis management perspective
Companies announced nearly 90,000 layoffs in March, a significant increase from the prior month and a considerable acceleration from last year, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported recently.
The tech industry, in particular, has been brutally hit, with over 100,000 cuts in 2023, according to the report, and it looks like it will beat 2001, the worst year ever amid the dot-com bust.
We are seeing layoffs in the business, tech, and within law firms. No industry is immune from layoffs in a global (and shrinking) economy, and law firms must prepare for this highly delicate situation to hit home. A layoff is a loss of talent, leaving the unintended consequences of mistrust and fear among a company’s remaining workers. Handling layoffs from a PR/crisis management perspective requires sensitive, transparent, and clear communication.
In the past, when employees were let go, that was the end, but not anymore, especially in a digital age where laid-off employees can vent their frustrations via Twitter, Tik Tok and create microsites that can go on for days and often take to social media to say their goodbyes.
Knowing in advance the right way to handle layoffs for a law firm or any company in this situation is important. First, I suggest running through scenarios as a team to ensure you know what to expect in every possible case and giving thought as leaders and communicators about how you will respond in a way that shows compassion. When we pay attention and exercise empathy, we address people’s worries and demonstrate that we understand the implications of what we are saying.
Generally, law firms have a good grasp of media relations and crisis management. But still, problems can arise when dealing with layoffs as they are emotional occurrences and business decisions. While they can present as a crisis, layoffs are typically in the pipeline for a while and involve much discussion at the leadership level. As a result, there is time to prepare for them and no reason for it to be communicated poorly.
In these situations, if you have communicated early enough to your staff, you can give your employees the courtesy of being terminated one-to-one with their manager rather than an overarching memo.
Here are other key considerations:
· Plan: Layoffs can feel sudden for employees, so it's essential to have a goal to communicate early and manage any fallout during the process. Identify who within the company needs to be informed, prepare clear and concise messaging, and stay focused on communicating the factual aspects of this situation. Take time to get organized in advance, be thoughtful about the timing of this news, and understand the legal compliance issues.
· Select a spokesperson: You need the right spokesperson for something this delicate. Find somebody your audience will trust to deliver the news correctly. Crisis preparation training helps in these situations and allows you to determine who will perform well.
· Written communication: Be aware that communication in writing will be shared. A very high source of leaks comes from inside the law firm or company. Be prepared. If you put it in writing, you will likely see it published.
· Honesty is essential: Explain why this is happening—economic changes, restructuring, or reduced demand. Don't try to sugarcoat the situation or downplay the impact of the layoffs. Instead, be transparent about why the layoffs are happening, how many people are affected, and what steps are being taken to reduce the help to those who have been affected.
· Show compassion: Layoffs can be traumatic for everyone in the company, especially those directly affected. Show empathy and offer resources to support those who are losing their jobs. In addition, communications pros must be ready to support the decision from a spokesperson, brand, and reputational standpoint.
· Control the narrative: Don't let rumors or misinformation spread. Be proactive in communicating with the media, employees, and other stakeholders about the situation.
· Anticipate: Remember the emotions of the remaining staff. More than likely close bonds were established, and friends have been affected. Communicate what is expected to happen next. Stop as much speculation as possible. Remember, there is an impact on those who remain. Staff are often uncertain and upset and need time to process.
· Consider legal considerations: Consult with legal counsel to ensure the company complies with all applicable laws. Understand the responsibilities related to severance pay, healthcare, and notification requirements.
· Bring in PR: You’ll want to engage PR as part of the decision-making process. PR, the C-suite, HR, and legal must be involved in the process. This group provides counsel throughout the process and advises on communicating the reasons for the layoffs as a business with care and concern.
· Prepare: It's essential to convey information about the job cuts and what situations led to them. Recession, inflation, industry changes, what led to the layoffs? Companies that achieve smooth transitions decide upfront the decisions that led to the reductions and the external/internal communications surrounding post-job cuts.
Layoffs are never easy; handling them from a PR/crisis management perspective requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach. Communicate clearly and proactively, show empathy, and take steps to control the narrative to mitigate the negative impact of this unpleasant news.
Elizabeth Lampert is an authority on media relations strategy, content marketing, and crisis communications. She can be reached a Lampert@elizabethlampertpr.com.