Rachel Merfalen, Director of Business Services, San Diego Workforce Partnership

Rachel Merfalen, Director of Business Services, San Diego Workforce Partnership

For a business owner or manager, one of the most difficult parts of the job is laying off an employee. Yet over the last eight weeks, hundreds of businesses were compelled by Covid-19 shelter-in place measures to lay off nearly all their staff in the largest incidence of mass layoffs that our country has ever seen.

As of May 13, 2020, the San Diego Workforce Partnership has received notices of layoffs from 469 business impacting nearly 70,000 workers in San Diego County alone.

While the responsibility of an employer may end with delivering the difficult news to employees and providing required benefits, the journey of the unemployment transition for the impacted worker has just begun, and can stretch for weeks and months into an uncertain future.

Approaching layoffs with intention, respect and compassion can result in tremendous benefits for your employees and your company. So, what can you do to help? Below you’ll find some of the themes and feedback we’ve heard from many of the employers and workers affected by layoffs over the last two months about how to make a difficult transition a little bit better.

Communication

Be transparent with your employees and communicate as early and clearly as you can. The most compassionate and respectful approach is to communicate the news face to face (in-person or virtually). Email announcements are necessary to verify receipt but use them as follow-ups to a conversation. Many of the laid-off workers we’ve been in touch have expressed frustration that they were laid off via text message or email.

Employees are already receiving bad news; the way it’s delivered makes an incredible difference for your company’s reputation and the success of future relationships with that employee and their network.

Choice

To the extent possible, provide choices for workers. When receiving news of a layoff, employees often feel an immediate loss of control. The power to choose can go a long way toward a more meaningful process. Being flexible with the date of layoff, offering multiple opportunities to receive information on benefits or letting select office supplies leave with the employee may seem like little things but they can make a big difference.

For one employee, his employer allowing him to keep a wiped version of his laptop made all the difference. He did not have a computer at home and the generous gesture gave him the means to look for work, file for unemployment insurance and stay connected during shelter-in place. He and his family expressed sincere gratitude for that gift during a difficult transition.

Cash

Does your company offer separation benefits? Since Unemployment Insurance benefits take several weeks to process, any cash for severance will go a long way. Paired with a communication strategy, providing sendoff support prompts more employees to leave with feelings of goodwill. The first couple of weeks of cashflow before UI kicks in can be very difficult, so as much advanced notice and any separation payment can be a big difference maker.

Care

The San Diego Workforce Partnership can help you understand what benefits you and your workers are eligible for. Resources like the Employee Development Department’s Work Sharing or Partial Work programs may provide an alternative to layoffs. If layoffs have or will occur, schedule a Layoff Transition webinar with us (in English or Spanish), offering employees live access to ask their questions about unemployment insurance and job search resources. Remain a resource by referring to free mental health, wellness or career services. Doing so shows that you care, creates positive sentiment about your company and improves future relationships.

Because of the immediacy of the Covid-19 crisis, many employers did not have the opportunity to provide these services before layoffs occurred. These things can still be done after the date of layoff; the Workforce Partnership is working with many employers to continue to get resources, information and services into the hands of their former employees.

This is not an easy time for workers or businesses. And during hard times, small acts of intention and kindness can make a big difference.

At the Workforce Partnership, we are here to support you, your business and your employees, whether you must lay off or furlough your workforce or are able to retain or re-employ any of the thousands of displaced workers in our region. Visit workforce.org/businesses or email business@workforce.org to get in touch.

Rachel Eva Merfalen directs the business services strategy at the San Diego Workforce Partnership, which re-imagines workforce development to keep pace with a rapidly changing, skills-based economy. Merfalen is particularly energized by partnering with businesses that acknowledge the positive economic impact of promoting quality jobs, inclusive growth, and engaging in population-specific workforce programs. She is an entrepreneur and business owner, and a native to San Diego.