Downsizing with Compassion: The Human Element of RIFs

by | May 21, 2024 | Amy Friedman

As organizations face the need to reduce labor costs, the human element becomes paramount. Beyond numbers and spreadsheets, there are real people with livelihoods, dreams, and fears. As the bridge between upper management and employees, HR plays a pivotal role in ensuring that downsizing is not just about cost-cutting, but also preserves dignity and fosters resilience.

Downsizing: The Emotional Impact

Losing a job is a profound experience. It disrupts routines, shatters self-esteem, and triggers anxiety. During a termination notification, we must recognize the emotional rollercoaster that employees ride. Here is how we can address it:

Lead with Empathy: Acknowledge the pain. Sit down with exiting employees, listen actively, and validate their feelings. Show empathy, not sympathy. Understand that grief and anger are natural reactions.

Communicate Transparently: Uncertainty breeds fear. Managers should communicate openly about the reasons behind layoffs, the process, and the support available to both exiting and remaining employees. Transparency builds trust even in difficult times.

Use an Individualized Approach: Each employee’s situation is unique. Some may be relieved, while others will be devastated. Tailor your approach accordingly. Offer personalized resources like counseling or career coaching.

Downsizing Communication Strategies

Effective communication during downsizing is imperative. Here’s how you can master it:

The Compassionate Script: Prepare a script that balances honesty with compassion. Avoid jargon and corporate speech. Use simple language to explain the situation and the available support.

The Right Timing: Announce layoffs swiftly but thoughtfully. Avoid Fridays or before holidays. Give employees time to absorb the news and ask questions.

The Survivor Communication: Address the remaining workforce promptly. Explain the impact on workload, roles, and team dynamics. Reassure them about their value and the organization’s future.

Reskilling and Transition

HRBPs are architects of resilience. Here’s how we can help employees transition:

Skills Assessment: Identify transferable skills. Encourage employees to explore new roles within the organization. Highlight reskilling opportunities both inside and outside the company.

Outplacement Services: Partner with outplacement agencies. Provide departing employees with resume workshops, interview coaching, and networking support.

Mentoring: Connect affected employees with mentors who have navigated similar transitions. Peer support eases the journey.

Leadership’s Role in Downsizing

HRBPs are advisors to leadership during downsizing:

Making Compassionate Leaders: Train managers to deliver the news empathetically. Leaders set the tone for the entire organization.

Managing Survivor Guilt: Help leaders address survivor guilt. Encourage them to express appreciation for the remaining team members.

Communicating Long-Term Vision: Remind leaders that downsizing is a strategic move. It’s about sustainability and growth, not just immediate cost reduction.


The human element is not a footnote in the downsizing process; it’s the heart of the story. HRBPs, armed with empathy, communication finesse, and a commitment to individual well-being, can guide organizations through these stormy waters.

If you want to learn more about humane RIFs and termination, follow Partners International on LinkedIn.



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