Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & HR Policies /

“Houston, we have a problem.”

When Atlantis blasted off into orbit on July 8, its departure marked the end of NASA’s shuttle program.  United Space Alliance, NASA’s contractor for maintaining the space shuttles, announced it will layoff a significant amount of employees after the shuttle safely lands.

Just how many? There are around 5,500 contracted employees and less than 1,200 civil servants working on the shuttle mission. The agency will lay off about 3,200 contractors on July 22, officials said. Cutbacks for all of NASA’s prime contractors will continue through the middle of August, leaving less than 1,000 employees.

While the layoffs don’t come as a surprise, (NASA has been planning to retire its space shuttles since as far back as 2004), they are still difficult.

At Integrity HR, we understand the difficulties that come with letting go members of an organization. Last year, we wrote about how to fire someone without losing sleep. Read that blog to learn how to conduct the termination meeting in the best possible way.

Now, we’d like to focus on the bigger picture. When letting go of experienced employees who have been with the company for many years (such as the NASA employees), it is important to show them respect. Every termination is a difficult process and there is a right and wrong way to handle it.

While following the steps in your employee handbook on how to handle termination, employers must also remember to incorporate respect and dignity into the downsizing process.

Follow these steps to downsize with dignity:

  • Be Open
    • Let employees know early on about what’s happening with the company’s business and the potential impact on the workforce. Invite employees to ask questions and raise concerns in order to keep them in the loop and remove guessing or speculation. If you keep all the information regarding the layoffs a secret, employees will become paranoid. Some star employees may even leave because they wrongly think they are the next to go.
  • Be Thoughtful.
    • Create a severance plan that may not be especially lucrative due to company finances, but which provides a tangible economic benefit to downsized workers and an intangible but important gesture of management’s compassion and understanding of the impact of the layoff on them. Show your employees they are worth your time by refraining from sending a group email message or holding an impersonal discharge meeting. Remember Karma? What goes around comes around. Be thoughtful when terminating an employee because one day you may be on the other side of that hurtful, impersonal mass email.
  • Be Personal.
    • Give employees options on how they want their exit handled, including when and how to collect their personal things, say their goodbyes and depart with as much grace and dignity as possible. At one company, women employees were monitored while cleaning out their desks and escorted out by security, while the men were allowed to leave on their own. The women filed a lawsuit against the company for discrimination and won. Keep your policy consistent to avoid legal issues.
  • Be Helpful
    • Do layoffs on a Monday or Tuesday morning. If you do layoffs on a Friday, it gives the employee all weekend to stew and he/she cannot start looking for a new job until Monday. Some companies use outplacement counselors who are hired to help employees transition into new jobs. Helping your employees with the next step shows that you care about their futures. In the upcoming NASA layoff, United Space Alliance plans to offer services such as resume development, job interview training and career transition training—in addition to severance.

Downsizing with dignity is not only the smart, legal thing to do, but it also shows employees who survive a mass layoff that you truly care about your employees and their futures.

Be sure to lookout for our next blog about how employers should approach layoff survivors!

By having a termination policy outline in your employee handbook, you can avoid legal troubles. If your company needs assistance with creating or updating an employee handbookfacilitating terminations or dealing with any other HR related problems, please contact one of our experienced consultants. We are here to help!

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.