Making the decision to reduce employment expenses is one of the most challenging situations a leader can face. Although there are many options, such as reducing or eliminating retirement plan contributions, pay cuts and other operating expense cuts, staffing reductions may be necessary. Rightsizing with empathy will help position your organization as strongly as possible during and after this crisis. Here are three steps you can take.

Step 1: Carefully prepare communications

Communication and transparency are key. Both impacted and remaining employees will be watching your words and actions, and this will leave a lasting impression on your employer brand. In addition to creating talking points, train your leaders on how to deliver the message to impacted individuals and their teams. Create and follow a communication timeline that ensures everyone hears the same message at the right time. Finally, provide separated employees with as many resources as possible, including outplacement and mental health services.

Worried you can’t afford these resources? There are many free ones available—and it will mean so much to your employees if you do the work to share them. Here are a few the First Person Advisors team has put together:

Step 2: Deliver the message

Whether you need to deliver the message virtually or can meet in-person, a one-on-one meeting and good follow up is essential. Don’t assume the impacted employee will remember any of the details you share in the meeting. They will likely be overwhelmed by the emotion of learning they will no longer be employed, whether it is for a temporary period (furlough) or permanently (lay off).

Confirm their contact information and let them know when you’ll be calling to follow up on any questions. We suggest calling 24 hours later and at least one more time within the first week after separation. With furloughs, you will likely want to keep consistent communication to help ensure they will return to work when needed and feel connected to you as their employer.

Step 3: Follow up with the survivors

In addition to a follow-up plan for those impacted, it’s critical to have a solid plan to follow up with the survivors. Survivor guilt is a real state of mind, and employees can quickly sink into, “Why was my co-worker impacted and not me? What could I have done differently to prevent this outcome?”

It’s proven that more attrition will occur among those who remain. In fact, just a 1% workforce reduction can create an average 31% increase in voluntary turnover, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There is a direct link between reductions and how survivors think about their commitment to their employer. Do everything you can to prevent a negative impact.

Engage survivors on a defined rhythm for 30-45 days. Clearly outline your objectives, audience, key points and communication channels. Start with key talent/individuals and then quickly work toward broader team communications.

This is a time to be transparent and courageous. Consistent messages from leaders are key but allow for honesty and candor. Finally, reinforce your gratitude and support for their new work environment and way of working.

With careful planning and empathy, it’s possible to preserve and even strengthen your employer brand during the difficult situation of a staffing reduction. Looking for more resources? Download our Staffing Reduction Toolkit or visit the FirstPerson Resource Hub.