COVID Leadership Questions #1 – How do I lay people off & conduct performance management?

Recently a community of leaders discussed leadership and management issues they are facing during the COVID crisis.

Two questions came up, and we discussed best practises on how to:

  • Manage laying people off during COVID?
  • Provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

The answers to the discussion are below …

How does a leader manage laying people off during COVID?

First, as a leader, you should not deal with a layoff situation in the same way you would normally. In my experience, a ‘normal’ layoff is usually done in a clinical, and often a cold-hearted way.

People are called into a room and told that they are being laid off; concurrently, their IT, phone and building access is shut off. They are escorted back to their office to gather up their personal effects and then out the door.

We’ve all heard layoff horror stories with people left sitting on the curb with a banker’s box of stuff waiting for a ride home, or their building access is shut off before they are advised of what is happening.

To state the obvious, COVID is a different circumstance. People are being laid off due to events entirely outside of their and their employer’s control.

Read how you can do terrible things to good people.

So this would be my recommendations:

1. Keep the whole team advised that layoffs are likely inevitable. You people are not stupid and will be expecting bad news, and if you don’t talk to them frankly and honestly, they will assume the worse and make up a story that is a billion times worse than the real situation.

2. If you are considering a limited layoff, ask your team how to handle it. Maybe some people may choose to be laid off, some might choose reduced hours, or some may want to burn off vacation & lieu time.

3. If layoffs are the only option, be exceedingly human. If the number is small, then have one-on-one conversations. If it is a large number of employees, set up videoconferencing or bring people together in one place (of course respecting social distancing)

4. The CEO, Executive Director, or the most senior person, should be the one delivering the news.

5. Ensure you have as much information and even assistance available so people can apply for federal, state or provincial COVID financial supports (like EI/UI)

6. Allow people to grieve and share before the layoff takes effect.

7. And finally, How can you keep the laid-off people connected to you, the company and their coworkers? Consider video social events, like Zoom Happy hours, where everyone can, if they choose, join in and stay connected. Or, maintain e-newsletters to the laid-off people, so they hear what is going on.


How does a leader provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

1. Unless an employee is just bad, dishonest or breaking company rules, most performance issues are rooted in the leader failing to set expectations upfront and early.

Read more about leading when authority is limited

  1. If you have employees working remotely and from home, make sure they clearly understand what you expect.

Of course, you need to be reasonable to the current circumstances. But it is not unreasonable for employees to meet deadlines, do good work and be available for team calls and videoconferencing.

You are still paying them regardless of where they are working.

  1. If someone is not performing to your expectations, then you can follow this framework for sensitive conversations using the 4 F’s:
    • First: When you make the appointment, say that you want to have a conversation that will be valuable to your working relationship
    • Facts: Begin the meeting by retelling what happened for each of you
    • Feelings: Tell the impact that the meeting had on you
    • Future: Help each other figure out what you could do differently and what can be done by everybody to address the situation