A few clicks around the internet will reveal what seemingly everyone is talking about this week—the CEO who acted, let’s say, callously while laying his employees off via Zoom.
Yup, that one.
A mortgage startup called https://t.co/gYR2q1iSTP got a $750 million investment.— Dan Price (@DanPriceSeattle) December 4, 2021
The next day, its billionaire founder laid off 900 people in a three-minute Zoom meeting.
He previously called staff "a bunch of dumb dolphins" and got a $25 million bonus.https://t.co/bZfIFHWY84
We know, we’re over here cringing, too.
Whether you call them RIFs (reductions in force), layoffs, or something else, terminating employees is never easy on anyone. So, we thought this was a prime moment to examine what the CEO at Better.com could have done, well, better when terminating 900 of his employees this week.
Here are the three key takeaways HR can learn from this fiasco to help their company stay out of the limelight if their leadership team has to deliver bad news.
1. Lead With Empathy
… or the exact opposite of what CEO Vishal Garg did.
For starters, Garg mostly talked about himself during the three-minute Zoom call. Instead of expressing his condolences, appreciation, or support for the impacted employees, he talked about why it was difficult—for him—to deliver this news. He shared that the last time he conducted layoffs he cried. And he even went so far as to tell the departing employees that he hoped these layoffs would “enable the company to thrive again.”
Let’s unpack that.
- Made the delivery about why it was hard for him, not the people losing their jobs unexpectedly just weeks before the holidays.
- Showed no empathy for the impacted employees.
- Explained that everyone on the Zoom call was getting laid off. So, why was he talking about the future of the company they no longer worked for?
HR leaders, here’s where you step in. Help your leaders deliver bad news with empathy. Thank employees for their contributions. Do not insult their intelligence or humanity by suggesting the company will be better off without them.
This should all go without saying, but… here we are.
2. Take Ownership for Layoffs
As for the reasons for the layoffs? Garg cited “market efficiency, performance, and productivity,” and then also accused the staff of “stealing” from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive, according to Fortune.
So, to add insult to injury, Garg was not only incredibly vague about the reasons for the layoffs—no mention of the company’s mission or values; no mention of strategy or goals; and certainly no taking ownership for the missteps that forced the decision to part ways with 900 employees—he also berates his soon-to-be former staff by accusing them of not working long or hard enough.
By the way, last week the company received $750 million as part of a deal to go public.
HR pros, once again, here’s your call to action: Support your leaders with fostering better communication skills—whether that’s providing crisis communication training, helping them craft the messaging when the need to deliver bad news arises, or coaching them through how to be a 21st century leader.
Because, right now, not only are all 900 of those former employees out in the world telling their family, friends, and strangers on the internet never to work for or buy from Better.com, the other 90% of employees still working at Better.com are wondering, “Do I really want to work here?”
And we all know the answer.
Supplemental reading: The Great Reshuffling: Why Your Top Talent is on the Move and How You Can Win Them Back
3. Help Employees Land on Their Feet
Actions speak louder than words—even when those words are kind.
Like we mentioned earlier, layoffs are hard on all parties involved, but that doesn’t mean you wash your hands of the people who up until recently were your coworkers, direct reports, and friends.
HR pros—here’s where you get creative to help employees land on their feet after they leave your organization.
We’ve made a list with a few ideas to help you get started:
- Offer severance pay (as much as you can)
- Accelerate equity vesting
- Extend healthcare coverage (beyond COBRA)
- Redirect your internal resources, AKA tap your recruitment teams to help with interviewing workshops and job placement
HR Pros Always Have A Lot on Their Plates
As HR professionals, you help steer the ship in the direction of fairness and positive employee experiences. From crisis communications to rewards and recognition, you help implement the policies that attract, retain, and support employees.
And we know your time is limited. That’s why we help take administrative tasks off your hands, so that you can focus on creating great employee experiences that, while they may not go viral, keep your people happy (and healthy).
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