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how HR can support employees through the emotional side of redundancy

Layoffs occur for several reasons, with mergers, relocation, and the need to cut costs at the top of the list. Each year, about 14% of layoffs occur from all industries in the U.S., but it doesn’t make it easier for laid-off workers, the remaining workforce or employers to cope.

Despite the emotional turmoil that a layoff creates, companies do try to make the situation as swift and discreet as possible. However, strong emotions can follow any employee who has undergone an involuntary separation and those emotions can be detrimental to positive action.

Even if a person is immediately slotted into a new job, the effects of a layoff from the previous employer can linger and tear down a person’s self-esteem. What many people don’t realize is that people who have been laid off often experience it as they would the loss of a loved one - experiencing the stages of grief. The most common post-layoff emotions include anger, sadness, fear and despair, as well as irritability, depression, denial and shame.

Here is some insight into the emotional side of a layoff and a few things HR leaders can do to help their impacted employees cope:

Layoff emotion #1: Shock and confusion

When layoffs occur, it’s very common for those impacted to feel shocked and confused. People may ask themselves:

  • Why am I being let go?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • Why doesn’t my employer value me?
  • Why isn’t a different person being impacted?

It’s never directly the employee’s fault that a layoff has occurred. Though most companies do their best to handle a layoff, many employees will feel as though they were let go due to individual performance. Ensuring that the layoff process is handled professionally and according to best practices is the hallmark of a good employer and one that will continue to attract the best talent.

Layoff emotion #2: Worthlessness

Once the initial shock of the layoff has died down, feelings of worthlessness can set in. Imagine being at a job for over 20 years - you feel like you're part of the work-family, have gained great experience and made good connections, but one day you're told that your services are no longer required.

The feeling of worthlessness easily creeps in, and such emotions are hard on employees. It can be even harder for older employees who may find it difficult to secure a new job. Providing people with a career coach who can immediately focus their energies on positive thoughts and actions can help to alleviate some of these negative thought patterns.

Related content: 5 Reasons Virtual Career Coaching Works

Layoff emotion #3: Anger

Feelings of anger about a layoff often begin with resentment for the years of dedication to the company - the complications and frustrations of not having a job only make it worse. Some employees may choose to lash out in anger at the manager or supervisor, while others may clam up and stay quiet, unable to channel their anger accordingly.


It’s normal for employees to respond in anger upon receiving a layoff notification. The important part of the equation is how well managers are prepared to deal with these emotions. @NidaSea @RiseSmart


It’s normal for employees to respond in anger upon receiving a layoff notification. The important part of the equation is how well managers are prepared to deal with these emotions. There are a few things managers can do to ease those feelings of anger:

  • Show empathy without commiserating with the employee
  • Be transparent with messaging and clearly state the reasons for the layoff
  • Emphasize the elimination of the position, not the person

Providing managers with notification training and working with an outplacement services partner is essential. This will help to craft a clear message with accurate information, smoothing the process for everyone involved. This training can also help lessen the likelihood of extreme emotional reactions.

Related content: Avoid these 5 Layoff Notification blunders

Solution: Acknowledge feelings

It’s not healthy for any employee to bury their emotions after a layoff, as this can cause the individual to harbor bad feelings and lash out unnecessarily. Instead, help employees to understand that it’s OK to feel upset, irritated, ashamed and afraid—they’ve just lost their job.

Beyond providing advice and assistance to land a new job, career coaches can offer the emotional support your employees need to work through the tough feelings that come with a layoff. While employees are often anxious to get a new resume, make their first networking call and apply to new positions, career coaches play a critical role in directing job seekers to take a step back and discover where they want to go next.


Beyond providing advice and assistance to land a new job, career coaches can offer the emotional support your employees need to work through the tough feelings that come with a layoff. @NidaSea @RiseSmart


Taking a moment to reflect and take a clear look at career objectives is one of the irreplaceable values a career coach can bring to the job search process. By applying tried and true methodologies, the right career coach can lead a person from a place of emotional turmoil to a feeling of goal setting and purpose.

While many organizations have accepted the importance of caring for laid-off employees, many are still forgetting those who remain – the survivors.

Solution: Don’t forget the survivors

A layoff can also cause problems for the remaining employees.  In hopes of being in a more secure position, some may be ready to jump to another job. Others may begin to harbor ill feelings toward their employer, or start feeling as if their contributions don’t matter.

Related content: Downsizing with Dignity: Don’t Forget the Survivors

The work performance of remaining employees can cause individual performance to suffer or hinder team participation. Signs of this can include:

  • Distrust of supervisors and higher management
  • Increased anxiety and the constant worry of being next
  • Fear of vocalizing opinions 
  • Sudden lack of confidence or motivation

Providing resiliency training for the remaining employees and managers is a proven method of shortening the time to productivity and engagement.

In addition, human resources can utilize services such as Employee Assistance Programs (EPA) to help with counseling and the emotional effects that stem from a layoff. Managers and supervisors should also be trained in guiding and supporting remaining employees.

It’s important to inform layoff survivors just how the company is operating in relation to workers that have been let go. Employers should also give remaining employees context to help them understand that they’re still needed, and that their contributions are important to the company - especially with fewer workers.

Solution: A holistic approach

Employers must work even harder after a layoff to maintain a positive employer brand and to ensure future business success. At every stage of the employee journey, it’s important for organizations to live out their stated values and show employees they care. These tenets to success are never more important than before and after a layoff.

Layoffs affect everyone from the outgoing employee to the company CEO. It’s not an easy transition, but with enough support and follow-through, companies and employees can bounce back.

As layoffs begin to be announced around the world, employees affected by the cuts have to face up to the unpleasant reality of being laid off. Redundancies are a normal and often unavoidable part of modern working life, but it is important to remember that it is an enormously uncomfortable experience for all parties involved. While the person tasked with delivering the news is unlikely to enjoy the meeting, the employee being made redundant is the most affected and will likely undergo a range of emotions that are not dissimilar to those of grief. Therefore, as well as making the experience as swift and discreet as possible, it is essential to remember that the employee is ultimately losing their job, source of income and security, and will naturally experience strong emotions as a result. In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the emotional side of the employee experience and what HR departments can do as part of the redundancy management process to help employees get back on their feet.

understanding an employee’s reaction to redundancy

Redundancies can be a valuable tool in a company’s strategic planning process, but to effectively and efficiently manage layoffs, the emotional impact should be carefully considered. It’s not only the exiting employee who will be affected – those who survive the cull will also react to the situation.

Ultimately, the most important thing that any HR professional can do is place themselves in the shoes of the employee that is being let go. By doing this, there will be a better understanding of the emotions that an employee is battling with and the opportunity to plan an appropriate response. 

Although redundancies can occur due to many reasons, and while every employee and every situation is unique, there are common reactions that many employees experience when immersed in the redundancy management process.

Just like the five stages of grief suffered during the loss of a loved one, an employee being made redundant will cycle through a number of clearly defined stages, albeit in a non-linear fashion. In short, you can’t anticipate the order or timescale of a reaction, but understanding the three main emotions involved is the first step to better understanding what can be done to help. 

1. shock & confusion:

This is one of the first emotions that people feel, and it often leads to employees asking questions about their own performance and how it might have impacted their selection for redundancy. These questions can include:

  • why am I being let go?
  • what did I do wrong?
  • why doesn’t my employer value me?
  • why isn’t a different person being made redundant?

It is important to take the approach that redundancy is never directly the fault of an employee. There can be many different reasons for redundancies to occur, and even when restructuring is handled professionally, employees often feel that they are being let go due to their performance. Employers will continue attracting the best employees by ensuring that every redundancy is managed according to best practices. 

2. feelings of worthlessness

The next emotion that employees often deal with is a feeling of worthlessness. This is especially true when an employee has been working the same job for many years. People forge deep connections with their workplaces and often feel like they become part of a work-family. Connections are made, and experience is gained through years of work, so being told that your services are no longer needed can be a bitter pill to swallow. 

A feeling of worthlessness can easily and quickly creep in, making it hard for employees to focus on positive things and begin finding a new job. Helping employees by providing them with a career coach that can assist them in focussing their energy on positive thoughts and actions can reduce negative thoughts. In addition, a career coach can help employees to discover their next step and begin preparing them for a new role. 

3. anger

It seems only natural that an employee that has dedicated many years to a company might feel a certain measure of anger towards the company when being made redundant. The frustrations that accompany not having a job make these feelings of anger worse and can often lead to a build-up of emotions. While some employees might choose to lash out at a manager or supervisor, others are often unable to channel their anger and instead internalize the emotion. 

how managers can react appropriately

While anger is unavoidable when going through redundancy, managers can choose to prepare for this emotion and manage it accordingly. Some of the things that managers can do to reduce anger are:

  • express empathy with the employee without commiserating
  • clearly state the reasons for the redundancy
  • place emphasis on the fact that the role is being eliminated and not the employee

Equipping managers with the necessary skills to handle redundancy and the emotions that follow is essential to ensuring that the process is as smooth as possible. Managers with specialized training will be able to give employees clear information and manage the reactions that follow being made redundant in a professional manner. Training also helps to make a difficult task somewhat easier for managers and can reduce the likelihood of extreme emotional reactions on either side. 

how to help employees find a way forward

Understanding the emotional reactions of employees is one part of the equation. Still, managers also need to be able to provide employees with viable solutions that make it easier to process the loss of their job and move forward to a new opportunity. Services like executive outplacement programs and career and leadership coaching can both be invaluable in redundancy management. 

allow employee to express their emotions

One of the most important things that HR can do is making sure that employees understand that it is completely acceptable to feel upset and afraid or unsure when being made redundant. After all, the person has just lost their job and a certain sense of security. By helping employees to express themselves in a calm and structured environment, extreme emotional reactions can often be avoided. 

act as a sounding board

In addition to helping employees to land a new job, external career coaches can also act as a sounding board for employees to work through the many emotions that come with redundancy. Often, the first reaction when redundancy has occurred is to apply for a new job immediately, but this is not always a good idea. Career coaches can help employees navigate the different opportunities that become available because of losing a job.

In many cases, this might be the perfect time to change career direction or pursue other challenges which might have taken a backseat to the employee’s job. In short, career coaches can help employees to discover where they want to go next. 

communicate clearly

Communication is especially important, and remaining employees should be fully informed about the process moving forward. It is also vital to ensure that employees understand that the company is successful and that there is no risk of them being let go. Most of all, employees should feel valued and wanted. This can be done by showing employees that the company cares about its employees and by living out stated values. In order for most companies to be successful, happy and satisfied employees are crucial. 

take care of the survivors

It is important to remember that restructuring doesn’t just affect employees that have been let go. The process also affects employees that stay behind. Seeing colleagues being made redundant can create a feeling of insecurity amongst the remaining employees, which can lead to employees looking for new jobs. In addition, some employees may resent the company when the responsibilities of redundant staff are transferred to them. In general, restructuring and redundancies can negatively affect the morale of the remaining staff, and it is important to reinforce morale as soon as possible.

Some of the signs of a drop in morale include:

  • distrust of senior staff such as supervisors and managers
  • increased anxiety and the fear of being made redundant as well
  • fear of expressing thoughts and opinions 
  • general lack of confidence and motivation

promote a return to normalcy

Returning to normalcy and re-establishing a sense of security and trust between employer and employees is an important task and something that must be done quickly to ensure that the company remains productive. This can be done by providing employees with resiliency training and through services such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These programs help with counseling and reduce the effects of experiencing a restructuring. In addition, managers and supervisors should receive training on supporting the remaining employees. 

utilizing redundancy management services

Redundancies are a reality of the modern business world and are often unavoidable. Fortunately, Randstad RiseSmart offers a suite of services to manage the process and the aftereffects. Investing in employees and helping them recover from being laid off improves your company’s reputation and ensures you always attract the best talent.