Posted by: healingtheworkplace | July 1, 2009

Healing the Workplace BEFORE and After Layoffs

Happy Canada Day! If you are living in Canada you may be fortunate to have the day off today and so hopefully you won’t be thinking about work.

Or perhaps you have been laid off recently or are in the unenviable position of having to layoff employees sometime in the future.

Since the economy tanked last fall, hundreds of thousands of people have “lost” their jobs in countries around the world.

Recently I received my “Toastmasters Magazine” in the mail. As an aside I have found Toastmasters International to be a great organization for helping  me to development public speaking skills. 

What do most people think about when they hear the word Toastmasters?

They probably think about public speaking. BUT, if you join the organization, Toastmasters will also help you develop a range of communication AND leadership skills.  

Now, what was I talking about? Oh yes, healing the workplace “before and after layoffs”.

In the most recent issue of the Toastmaster, David Zielinski has written an article called, “Talking Through Tough Times at Work: The value of communication after company layoffs.”

In my experience there are lots of reasons why people are laid off: mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, outsourcing, and closing of businesses are just a few.

Sometimes the organization has no lead time but sometimes the layoffs are part of a “planned change” and the organization has months or even years to plan and organize the layoffs.

A few books have been written in the past two decades to help people in organizations cope with layoff “survivors”:

  • Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Downsized Organizations by David Noer.
  • Charging Back Up the Hill: Workplace Recovery After Mergers, Acquisitions and Downsizing by Mitchell Marks.

It is important to support the “survivors” following layoffs.

But HOW you let people go is just as vital because the people who remain in the organization–the “survivors” will be watching this process closely.

Everything that the organization does during the time leading up to the layoffs will be put “under the microscope” so to speak.

You can begin the healing process before you actually layoff, fire or displace anyone and it will make it much easier for everyone post-layoff.

What can you do?

Well, years ago I worked for Providence Health Care (PHC) in Vancouver, B.C. This was during a time of ongoing change which included the outsourcing of the housekeeping and dietary departments AND the closing of two hospitals.

In my opinion what PHC did well was to really think about how the organization would care for people who were being “displaced”. 

This was the term that PHC used to describe people who were losing their jobs.

Here is a sample of the things that PHC did to help employees who were being displaced:

  • worked with the major unions (it was a highly unionized organization)
  • created a timeline so that people would know exactly what was to occur when.
  • povided options for people with years of seniority (e g posting into unfilled vacant positions)
  • provided information about retirement for those in a position to take early retirement
  • provided information about employment insurance (EI), benefits and sick time
  • provided assistance finding another job (working with community agencies)
  • provided funding for retraining
  • provided on-site classes on how to seek employment (interviewing tips, job search strategies, resume writing)

Wait there’s more!

Providence Health Care also offered the following services:

  • employee and family assistance program
  • cummulative critical incident stress management
  • occupational health and safety nurses
  • spiritual care workers
  • human resources specialists

Leaders were also provided with information and support during this process.

Finally, the organization communicated, communicated and communicated to ensure that all employees knew and understood what was happending, when it was going to happen, who would be affected AND what support was available to those who needed it.

Of course, support was offered to the “survivors” but the healing began long before the “displacements” happened. 




  1. Hi Lesley,

    Great post and evening greater blog title ‘Healing the workplace’. That title captures it all.

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