Leaders: Are Your Managers Trained in the Art of Downsizing?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Nobody enjoys being the bearer of bad news. As a manager, sooner or later, you’ll encounter a situation which requires you to give team members information that won’t be welcome. Whether it’s informing employees of  layoffs, unpaid leaves, or company shutdowns, you’d probably rather run for the exit. Dr. Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab, has a few pointers to manage these responsibilities in a humane way.

Research shows many managers choose to be stone-​faced and stoic when it’s time to talk to employees about terminations as a result of downsizing or other factors out of their control. Remember George Clooney’s character in the movie Up in The Air? He showed no emotion as laid off employees sobbed or erupted in anger after he gave the bad news.

Managers might think it’s easier to control their own emotions on the surface if they don’t outwardly show they’re upset about what’s going on. In truth, reports Zaki, managers who have to carry out these tasks too many times end up enduring sleepless nights or worse. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Ultimately, managers who receive proper training, reveal their emotions and show empathy for the employees they talk to, feel better about these encounters. Good training programs help managers interpret the emotions employees are having. Role playing sessions can improve managers' understanding of the employees’ situation.  For example, managers can learn to imagine what it feels like to suddenly be an unemployed single mom with three kids to support or to be a longstanding employee who knows he’ll face a challenge getting another job in the current market.

Managers who are trained to sensitively carry out layoffs can improve organizational outcomes, too.  Separated employees who believe they are being treated fairly and with respect, are less likely to become enraged or file formal grievances against the company.

If your training programs don’t include a module on how to tactfully carry out a downsizing event, now might be the time for an upgrade.