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As a manager, how can I avoid stress when laying off an employee?

Maureen Q. Russell, MPH, RN
Geriatric Medicine

As a Director of Nursing, and later as a Nurse Manager, I oversaw the closing of two sites. A lay off is akin to a divorce in the kind of emotions it arouses - and the range of reactions you'll encounter. Managing people is a lot like hearding cats. Managing through a lay off is like hearding cats - after you've hit them with a Super Soaker! Avoiding stress altogether is impossible, unless you're heartless. But there are things you can do for yourself, and your employee(s), to ease the pain.

  • Breathe in, breathe out - repeat.
  • Sleep, as best you can. (Yes, I know you're rolling your eyes - but try...)
  • Eat healthfully, and limit alcohol. The answer to the problems here is not in the fridge or at the bar.
  • Exercise moderately to help disperse some of that nervous tension that's tying your muscles in knots.

If you work in a union environment - read all union contracts, especially the details concerning layoff. Often this means letting go the least senior worker first - not the least productive. Know your employees union rights to "bump" another, the terms for advance notice and call-back.

Have COBRA information and paperwork in hand. Be ready with information about how to file for unemployment.

With your ducks in a row, sit down privately with your employee. Don't "turf" this responsibility. Know in advance what you are going to say. Practice in advance. Look people in the eye. Don't be surprised when an employee claims they didn't see it coming; few of us do. Thank them for their service. Speak honestly about the type of job references that can be expected. Be respectful at all times. Having security escort you to the door with a box of your belongings is tough, but often company policy. This is a business decision, but it's hard not to take it personally.

Knowing that many others in this job market have walked in these shoes is no comfort - for the employee OR the manager - but it is survivable. However, suggesting that "better thing await" is usually not well received in the moment.

The deed done: Breathe in, breathe out - repeat.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.