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Tech execs: Here’s how you can make layoffs a less traumatic experience

Let's face it, unexpectedly laying off someone is a terrible thing to do. Managers, CEOs and previously laid off staffers share what specific steps can help ease the pain.

A generous severance package is a great start, but there's more. (Photo via, used under a CC0 License)

This editorial article is a part of's How to Get Hired month. Join at our NET/WORK tech jobs fair on Feb. 26.

All too often, news coverage of layoffs at tech companies — yes, our own stories included — focuses largely on what led companies to shrinking its workforce and what the implications are to the firm’s business thesis. But what about those who have just lost their livelihoods?

As employees prepare to face an uncertain economic future, is there anything managers can do to make layoffs a more humane process? How can execs best equip staffers to best deal with the emotional trauma of joblessness?

In their responses to this reporter’s call out on Twitter, laid off staffers repeatedly said that a generous severance package was key to reducing the impact of unexpected termination. Lack of transparency and tact in delivering the news were two of the biggest aggravating factors.

Take developer Stanley Griggs, who now works at Malvern-based Frontline Education, for an enlightening example. A generous severance package and continued access to the company’s Udacity account — an e-learning platform — helped get the developer’s career back on track after being let go.

“Built my first Android app while unemployed to help shop me around which [helped me land] my current position,” Griggs said. “Which pays more.”

In January of 2016, it was engineer Elise Wei’s turn to be affected by a round of layoffs while working for a now now-extinct tech firm called Brief Technology in Doylestown. Moderate severance package aside, the company’s lack of transparency worsened the ordeal.

“They did a godawful job,” said Wei, who’d go on to work for Monetate and Ticketleap and has since relocated to New Zealand. “They lied and said the office was closed, then had us dial into a video call so they could lay us off and then wanted us to mail in our computers. It was comically bad. They were hopeless, and shuttered altogether, a few months after closing our project.”

Reached via email, veteran tech exec Bob Moul — who has notoriously opened up in the past about dealing with business failures — offered this five-step guide for managers to reduce the impact of layoffs on staffers, as informed by his own experiences being the bearer of bad news:

  1. Take accountability for the business’ condition.
  2. Treat people with dignity.
  3. Be candid and honest.
  4. Don’t drag it out (and don’t say things like “I know how you feel”).
  5. Help with finding new jobs or use a placement service.

Lucinda Duncalfe, who in 2017 had to lay off staffers at Monetate during her tenure as CEO, said a sensible approach to layoffs starts with being open and honest about what’s happening and why, with both those who are people leaving and staying.

“The process is important,” said the exec. “It should be founded in caring and respect. It’s critical to consider and plan for every individual, and to execute your plan flawlessly.”

Duncalfe, who left the CEO role at Monetate in August but transitioned into the executive director role, said companies should be as generous as possible with severance, including medical benefits and outplacement if you can manage it.

For Bob Moore, whose famed data analytics startup RJMetrics underwent a round of layoffs before being acquired by California-based Magento, managers must make the process easier on their staffers by checking their feelings at the door.

“As hard as layoffs feel for you, never forget that they are harder for the people whose jobs are going away,” said Moore. “Don’t ever bring up how hard this is for you with your team, your leadership, or, worst of all, the people affected. You can express empathy without asking for sympathy. If you need a support system, look to trusted peers, cofounders, loved ones, an executive coach, or a therapist.”

Moore, who until December of last year was president of startup boosting nonprofit Philly Startup Leaders, advises CEOs to avoid generic offers of help in staffers’ transition, opting instead to directly connect them with similar roles at other companies.

“You can also swallow your pride and let your community know that you’ve had to make layoffs and have amazing people to refer if they have open roles,” Moore said. “It will be much more efficient for you to open these doors for your team members than for them to find and open them on their own.”

Series: How to Get Hired Month 2019 / Builders
People: Bob Moul / Lucinda Duncalfe / Robert Moore

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