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Unfortunately we have seen a wave of layoffs over the last few weeks. StartUps and the tech sector are hit significantly, leaving behind brilliant talent.

Not least since the pandemic we have seen “good” examples on how companies are communicating this change, but plenty more bad ones.

The latest one being Klarna, having learned nothing from the disaster that Bird created in 2020.

There are many factors considered in making layoff decisions - let me zoom in on the role of the Communications department.

Key messages should be focused on employee impact

Include the basic information in your messaging.

  • The business narrative for the downscale

  • Clear messaging, including key information

  • Information on benefits and severance packages

  • Details on outplacement services

  • Administrative next steps, such as returning equipment and saying goodbye to colleagues

Avoid saying this.

  • Don’t say this will make the business more ‘healthy’ or ‘strong’. It devalues the employees.

  • Avoid saying ‘We had no choice’. Be firm and confident in the decision you made.

  • Don’t say ‘We did what we had to do’. That is pushing the responsibility on others.

  • Avoid saying ‘This is really hard for me’. It is most definitely harder for the people you let go.

Train your executives

CEOs: Put yourself in the centre.

Your job is to be there for employees and managers alike to guide them through the process, support and answer questions.

Share any communication with your managers in order to maintain a consistent message across all platforms and be transparent amongst executives.

Ideally you share the announcement just a couple of days prior in order to avoid any leaks but at the same time giving all affected enough time to prepare for the communication they have to drive.

Lastly, inform your internal stakeholders such as board members, investors, parent companies and others. Since this group has no immediate To Do’s resulting from the information, inform them right before you make an announcement to the entire company.

Managers: Have a plan for exit interviews

  • Test your tech set-up before the exit interview in order to avoid unnecessary disruptions.

  • Explain the situation in a calm manner.

  • Listen carefully and patiently.

  • Respond to questions to the best of your abilities using internal guidelines.

  • Offer support within your capabilities.

  • Plan for remaining team members. Establish an engagement plan.

  • Over-communicate new processes and changed goals in order to prepare remaining team members.

  • Create a future vision for employees and their roles.

  • Listen and respond to any concerns and fears from those that are staying and leaving.

Consistent Internal Communication

Your number one priority should be to communicate the same information across all channels, across all spokespeople as part of your internal communications strategy.

There are few things that are worse than conveying a negative message and that’s additionally causing unnecessary confusion and fear amongst employees.

Start with making an announcement to the entire company at a town hall or the equivalent meeting for all staff. Keep the focus on business goals.

Give employees a set time to engage and ask questions during this meeting. Make sure leadership roles are clear and all leaders are participating as a team.

Use this meeting as the trigger to cascade all other communication.

  1. Send out communication to only affected employees immediately and avoid unnecessary delays.

  2. Automatically send out calendar invites including the name of the person they will be talking to.

  3. Trigger an email right after (or during) the exit interview with clear next steps and expectation management.

  4. Have an FAQ sheet accessible to all staff on the intranet in order to fill all information gaps.

  5. Always give the most pressing information first.

  6. Never delegate any painful tasks, like the exit interviews. That’s when you need the leaders in your organisation to demonstrate effective leadership skills.

External communication follows internal communication

The number one priority is to have your employees informed. External communication is secondary.

In the days leading up to the announcement, make sure to pitch for an exclusive piece with a trusted media outlet. Give them the chance to interview your CEO behind closed doors.

That way you are able to control the narrative and get across all the things you want to say before the media can start speculating.

Oftentimes other press outlets are simply copying whatever is printed in this exclusive piece.

The journalist receives the official press release and all corresponding information under embargo a couple of hours before the announcement.

Setting an embargo time is tricky. You need to find the balance between giving your employees the time to process and getting ahead of any leaks in order to control the narrative.

The average recommended time for the embargo to lift is anything between 1 and 3 hours after the internal announcement.

Use the embargo time as a trigger to release a blog post. A blog post on your owned properties can act as a single source of truth and the place you point all incoming queries towards.

Decide on the remaining communication channels. If your social media channels are mainly customer focused, it’s not the right place for your message.

Be conscious of the fact that, no matter how well you plan this cascade of communications - the topic is highly emotional and that is something you can't plan for.

Expect leaked documents and internal communication. Expect petitions and backpacks on social media. Expect negative press coverage and employees giving statements to the media.

Your job is to prepare leadership as best as possible for all eventualities and have the fire extinguisher ready to go.

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