I was part of the Human Resources function which evolved in the 90s from what was most often referred to as “personnel” and viewed as policing the system, to being a “Strategic Business Partner”. While we all believe we successfully transitioned from policing to partnering, we probably lost some innate qualities of being empathetic and compassionate.
The reality is that increasing use of digitization, automation, artificial intelligence, robots etc., combined with companies being under tremendous pressure to show growth and increasing profits every quarter will only increase layoffs among IT and other industries in the coming years. We could talk extensively about how employees need to keep pace by updating themselves about new age technology, assisting themselves through outplacement agencies etc. – however, here I want to focus on how HR professionals can help employees during these turbulent times.
Losing one’s job is undoubtedly one of the most stressful periods and emotionally draining experiences in one’s life, regardless of the reason for the job loss. Emotions range from fear to denial, to disbelief, anger, withdrawal, self-criticism etc. How can HR make it easier on the employee who is on the receiving end?
Learn to be more compassionate:

While we are innately compassionate beings, we are far less compassionate than we used to be – thanks to technology, internet, reduced face-to-face interactions, the way kids are raised today, and the changing ways in which society is shaping us. The good news is we can practice and cultivate compassion.
When delivering bad news, there is no need to sugarcoat it – rather, explain how the organization came to this decision. Being transparent and realistic will lead to employees being far more accepting of these decisions. Acknowledging their feelings, listening and expressing true understanding, and most importantly, taking appropriate action are the components of compassion.
Compassion, simply put, is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another by expressing special kindness towards them. However, to cultivate compassion in everyday life, one has to start by practicing self-compassion, as well as by building emotional resilience. All of us have inner critics and we are often harsher with ourselves than with our enemies. Don’t we put a great emphasis on being kind to others? So why not be kind to ourselves too? Counselling using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques can greatly help in building compassion along with practicing mindfulness.


Developing Empathy:

Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to experience some of that the other person might be experiencing, as your own pain. As HR professionals, bringing empathy into one’s everyday work is one of the most important ways we can turn around any negative emotions employees have towards HR functioning.
Practicing empathy leads to greater success personally and professionally, and enables us to become happier the more we practice it. Although compassion and empathy are two separate things, compassion for one person can lead to feeling empathy for another person. A mindfulness exercise that often helps, called “Loving Kindness Meditation”, focusses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth. Regularly practicing these meditations activates and strengthens areas of the brain responsible for empathy and emotional intelligence.


Seeking Professional help:

While layoff decisions are beyond HR’s control, preparing and planning how to execute the decision lies in HR’s hands – especially when it comes to delivering the news, helping others deal with the aftermath of the layoff, etc. Today most companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which help prepare HR folks for such crisis management.
As an HR professional, I personally have gone through stress and sleepless nights prior to communicating the bad news. While most employees go through similar emotions, the hard part is not knowing how each of them is going to react.  Seeking professional help from psychologists and having them around really helps. They could help with the variables that could arise during the discussion and how to deal with each of them. They also help with identifying various bodily symptoms and reactions, based on which HR professionals can understand how best to steer the conversation.

Silver Oak Health