businessBusiness CoachingHuman ResourcesEmployees’ Emotional Responses During a Layoff & How to Handle Them

April 1, 2022by Mikerash0
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Employees can experience a range of emotional reactions during layoffs.  Be prepared for any scenario by following our tips below.

Here are a few tips on how to respond to the most common reactions so you can stay in control of the meeting, throughout the layoff notification process.

  • If crying occurs:
    • Offer tissue.
    • Permit the employee the time to be alone to gather themselves, if needed.
    • Be supportive, but refrain from touching the employee.
    • Be patient.
  • If anger occurs:
    • Listen. Anger is a very normal response.
    • Respond to verbal attacks patiently but directly.
    • Remain calm, and request the employee to remain calm.
    • Do not discuss employee performance issues.
    • Stop the meeting until the anger ceases, and reconvene at a later time.
  • If silence occurs:
    • Acknowledge the employee’s feelings.
    • Allow the employee to discuss feelings and be empathetic.
    • Ask open-ended questions to determine whether the employee understands the layoff message.
  • If denial occurs:
    • Repeat or rephrase statements.
    • Ask open-ended questions to determine whether the employee understands the layoff message.
    • Empathize with the employee with statements such as, “I know this is quite a shock”
    • Give the employee clear direction on what he or she needs to do.
  • If threats occur:
    • Don’t put yourself between the employee and the door—give them easy access to leave at all times.
    • Keep calm, take a deep breath and do not get baited into an argument.
    • Suggest a brief cool down period; pause and then reconvene when you feel that emotions have calmed.
    • Try to anticipate those employees that might have a more adverse reaction. Include an HR rep or security officer in the notification meeting as needed, and plan the meeting in a time and place that will minimize the impact on other employees (end of day, away from areas where employees meet or congregate, etc.).
    • If you or anyone else feels physically threatened, get help immediately. Review security options and safety protocols ahead of time.

How to Answer the Most Difficult Question: “Why?”

In addition to physical responses such as crying, anger, and nonacceptance, emotional reactions during layoffs may also come in the form of a question, the hardest to answer being, “Why?”

  • “Why me?”
  • “Why not another employee?”
  • “Why did you make this decision?”

Other questions may include:

  • Who made this decision?
  • Who can I talk with to get this decision reversed?
  • Are there any other jobs available for me?
  • Can I keep my job if I take a pay cut or reduce my time?
  • Who else is being released?

80% Preparation, 20% Execution: Set Yourself Up for Success

One technique that will aid in addressing difficult questions is in composing and delivering a clear, concise notification message at the top of the meeting. This will allow you to anchor your responses to points you have already stated, providing you with something to refer to if questions do arise.

For example, if the employee asks for specific details about how the decision was made, but you and your team had determined those questions went beyond the scope of what should be discussed, then referencing or repeating what you laid out at the start of the meeting could suffice:

Employee: Who made this decision? Who can I talk with to get this decision reversed?

Manager: As I mentioned at the beginning of this meeting, this decision was made after a long and careful review of the options, realizing that many good people would be affected. This has been a very difficult decision and was not easily, nor hastily made. I want you to know that it has been reviewed at the highest levels within the company and it is a final decision.

When these questions come up, how you listen is as important as how you respond. Allow the employee to finish the entire question or statement, and know that the question may just be the start of a longer comment or series of questions.

Refrain from interrupting the employee or reacting defensively. We recommend taking the time to pause before each response so you show that you are truly listening to their concerns but also to ensure you answer the question, and only the question asked. The stress of the moment can impact your focus and push you to react in haste. Taking a pause helps keep your responses focused, and prevents you from mistakenly expanding into topics that could prompt more questions.

Resist the Need to Comfort with a Cliché

Lastly, show empathy for the employee but avoid platitudes such as:

“It’s not the end of the world.”

“I’ve been in your shoes before.”


If you would like assistance in preparing for a layoff within your organization, reach out to one of our Human Resource Management consultants today.  Let MCDA CCG, INC., guide you through the process, and make this difficult situation go as simply and easily as possible.  Call our office today (657) 258-0577 for a free no-obligation discussion.


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