How To Lay Off Someone Responsibly and Gracefully

One of the greatest challenges for leaders (especially owners) right now is dealing with the stress and fear surrounding laying off some team members.

It’s one of the worst things you’ll ever do as a leader. And it’s one of the worst things a team member will ever experience, especially if they’re a hardworking, dedicated member of the team.

Every owner I know carries a lot of responsibility for their team members, and that’s a great thing! But it becomes a bad thing when responsibility morphs into feelings of guilt and fear that cloud your decision making.

Here are 3 keys to laying off people responsibly and gracefully:

1. Know Your Responsibility

As a leader, part of your scenario planning involves revenue. What if revenue slows down or comes to a halt? How are you projecting your revenue, expenses, how long savings will keep you afloat, etc.?

If you aren’t doing this right now, you should be. This is just good stewardship (and I know many of you are doing this).

However, you must recognize that FEAR of losing good people (and never getting them back) or GUILT over having to pick who goes and who stays can lead to bad decisions. One of those bad decisions is going into debt. This can make things infinitely worse because you’re saddled with a loan that must be paid back, and you don’t know if revenue will go back to normal or not on the other side of this crisis.

Now, it may rebound due to pent-up demand, but if it doesn’t, you’re now in a more difficult position when you’ve added debt. The thing you must remember is your team members have options other than you going into debt. You are not their only option when times get tough.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying don’t bust your butt to plan financially, cut expenses, go after new opportunities to make money, and lead people to be as productive as possible!

And there’s nothing wrong with being transparent with your team about where things stand financially and enlisting them to fight for their jobs!

Yes, yes, yes, do all of that!

But, what I am saying is to stop and gain quality perspective so you can make smart decisions to keep your business as healthy as possible. This way you can weather this crisis and be in a position to gain on the other side.

Remember your “cheese got moved” and that means you have to move, too, and tough decisions are often part of the equation.

2. Battle The Lies

Lies will tell you at a time like this…

“…I could’ve done more to save this person.”

“…you’ve failed people.”

“…it’s all your fault.”

“…you’re not good enough to lead.”

“…you’ll never rehire these people.”

“…people will blame you and hate you.”

“…you should close your business.”

Lies drive fear and irrational decisions! It’s critical to battle The Lies with The Truths. If you’ve been through Next-Level Life, you know how important this is! For example, if you’re struggling with fear and guilt, write down The Lies you’re telling yourself and then write down The Truths.

These truths may require you to step outside your own shoes to see, but you will realize the reality and truth when you do that. Once armed with that info then beat down The Lies!

If you’re believing “I’ll never get these people back,” then battle it with truth and perspective like, “This was an unexpected situation and to save the business and the jobs of those I can keep, I have to make hard decisions. When we’re through it, I can reach out to these people and offer them their job back. I plan to support them to help them find another job and to ensure they’re not alone.”

If you’re believing, “The people I let go will blame me and hate me,” then fight back with, “I can’t control how people choose to respond, and my worth doesn’t come from their opinion of me. I will be as loving and caring as possible toward them, and support them as best I can. I need to stop focusing on me because it’s harder for them. This was an unexpected situation and to save the business, I have to let some people go.”

So stop for a moment. Take a breath. Realize that as leaders, we must lead ourselves well by gaining quality perspective and managing our emotions, so we can make the best decisions possible.

3. Provide support

If you’re letting someone go at no fault of their own, have a plan to help them.

This may include a written recommendation and reference to help them land a job. List out their strengths, skills, and how they impacted your team and business. Be specific.

Link them up with job search support groups, ensure they know how to file for unemployment and support them with it, or refer them to other business leaders you know.

If you can offer severance, be generous and do it. Remember, being let go is far worse on the team member than it is on you, the leader.

So be human about it. Battle the temptation to emotionally distance yourself to self-protect.

While nothing makes letting someone go easy (and again, it shouldn’t be easy) or emotionless, practicing these 3 keys will help you do it, if you’re faced with it.




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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.