How Leadership Plays A Role In Laying Plant Employees Off

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How does the Front Line Leadership Team play a role in times of laying plant employees off? This is not the most positive subject, but in any manufacturing or distribution organization, there are times when the workload drops enough where there is no other choice but to action some layoffs. 

A Leader’s Role In LayOffs

There is a misbelief that leadership does not have a role to play when it comes to layoff decisions– that it goes through human resources. At that point, they take care of handing out the slips and the employees’ exit.

The challenge in most organizations is the recognition that we may need to layoff today but also maintaining a positive relationship so that we are able to recall those employees in the future. 

Your Front Line Leadership Team (and the leadership team in general) should be part of the layoff process if they want employees to return at a later time. There needs to be this smooth transition, and we need employees to feel that we have been treating them respectfully and effectively.

Calling Back Experienced Workers After A Cold Layoff

One of our manufacturing clients had to lay off employees because their order volume had dropped. It would then spike back up, and they had to hire/rehire until it went back down to more “normal levels.”

When they needed to do a layoff, they would tell the HR department, “You know what? Just let go of those guys and give them their slips and tell them where they can go to apply for employment insurance.”

The problem was that it made the layoff process really cold and felt like a lack of caring on the employer’s side. But at the same time, the company felt that their volumes would eventually increase again, and they would need some of those experienced workers to come back.

They came to the conclusion that involving the leadership team in the process would increase the chance of an employee’s willingness to be called back in the future. It conveyed a sense of positive intent that there may be a callback in the future.

Leadership Involvement When A Laying Plant Employees Off

How should a leader stay involved when laying plant employees off? Here are a few suggestions:

Number One: Deliver The News and Explain Why

There is no need to sugarcoat it. You need to explain that the order volume has gone down. Which means ensuring that the labor mix is correct, given the volume of business at the time. 

Most employees will inherently understand that they do not expect you to keep them around if there is no work. This approach helps solidify a positive experience as opposed to, “Sorry, we need to perform a workforce reduction, and you are out of here.” Always link the news and the reason.

Number Two: Express Positive Intent To Recall In The Future

This does not mean making a full-on commitment because no one can predict what the future will bring. But you want to say, “Hey, as our volumes come back, we will be reaching out to you if you are available to see if you want to return, which we hope you would consider doing in the future.” Laying that groundwork makes it easier to bring them back down the road.

Number Three: Wish Them Well And Help Them With The Process

This means that you want to have them leave with this sense of, “Hey, we really wish we did not have to be going through this. This is just what the business requires right now.” Here are all the ways that you can help that employee: 

  • Assist in their application for employment/unemployment insurance
  • Explain who they need to go to 
  • Give direction on the next steps to take 
  • Provide them with their paperwork

By helping them understand how to get the benefits that they need, they will remember how well you treated them even as you did a layoff. If we could warm up the layoff process, we can lay the groundwork for recall in the future.

Strengthen Your Leadership Skills And Abilities

Once you have mastered having to lay plant employees off, you can help your leaders strengthen themselves in other areas. 

That is where our Front Line Leadership Training Program comes in. It is three full-days, or six half-days of content, and really it is about three times that amount of content for some of our clients that keep coming back for more development opportunities.

You can review the course content and start a conversation with us by visiting our website at

You have the option of bringing us on-site to deliver the training in-person. We can also provide training by using our state-of-the-art virtual training studio.

We want to be your partners in leadership excellence.