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Decoding Layoff Emails

Illustration of someone exiting a company

Few leadership acts prove more agonizing than communicating layoffs. Navigating these turbulent transitions demands clearly conveying difficult decisions while compassionately supporting those affected.

To help communicators and executives preparing layoff emails and memos, we examined 48 tech leader notices covered by the Washington Post plus 22 example layoff emails from Fortune 100 companies to identify patterns and spotlight useful approaches.

  • Connect choices to situations, not individuals. 55% of messages acknowledge overestimating prior hiring needs - likely seeking to counter assumptions of individual performance issues versus strategic landscape shifts driving moves. Additionally, 34% pointed to the macroeconomic environment and 31% referenced external factors such as industry landscape shifts, changing customer needs, or the competitive landscape.

  • Balance confidence with sensitivity. 50% of statements express confidence in overcoming current challenges and ultimately thriving. Those emails pointed to future success in statements like, “I’ve never been more confident in our future and our team” and “I am confident about the huge opportunity in front of us thanks to the strength of our mission.” Still, the executives took care to balance such statements with the difficult news of layoffs by saying things like, “I know this email will create uncertainty, but I believe transparency about what is happening, and how we're taking care of our impacted colleagues, is important."

  • Saying sorry. 20% issued direct apologies and 30% took partial responsibility for situations. To express regret, leaders used phrases like:

    • “I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I'm especially sorry to those impacted.”

    • “This will mean saying goodbye to some incredibly talented people we worked hard to hire and have loved working with. I'm deeply sorry for that."

  • Helping those affected by layoffs. Almost all of the example layoff emails we analyzed mentioned the company providing post-employment support services to those affected by the layoffs. Areas frequently cited across the messages included severance pay, extended health coverage, career transition services, immigration support, access to internal roles, and external hiring assistance.


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