Ask any business owner, manager, or professional in human resources in hospitality about what they dread, and this answer will likely appear somewhere on the list: having to lay off an employee.

There’s no denying that it’s a stressful situation all-around. And, while you’ll never get excited about this sort of interaction, it’s one you’re bound to deal with every now and then.

Fortunately, we have the information you need to get through it with poise and professionalism. In this article, we’re breaking down some common situations when you need to let an employee go, as well as some targeted advice for how to handle it. We’re also sharing some best practices to help you ensure this conversation goes as smoothly as possible. 

Use this as your guide, and you’ll be prepared to lay off an employee gracefully—no matter how much you’re dreading the process. 

When an Employee’s Performance Is Suffering...

A receptionist at your hotel hasn’t been meeting expectations. She consistently shows up late to work, is on her phone when people stop by the front desk and is almost always delayed in responding to guest requests and questions. 

You’ve received fairly frequent complaints from guests who didn’t receive the extra towels they asked for or who thought her overall disposition was unfriendly and unhelpful.

You know that her performance is having an impact on your hotel’s reputation, and you can’t keep excusing her behavior. It’s time to let her go. 

How to Handle This

It’s important to note that this isn’t actually a layoff—you’re firing that employee. Yes, there’s a difference. A layoff typically happens at no fault of the employee and is instead a result of downsizing or other company factors. In contrast, this situation requires that you dismiss this employee as a result of her performance. 

So, with that subtle difference out of the way, how should you go about breaking the news to your hotel receptionist? Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Communicate early and often: Your conversation shouldn’t blindside your employee. You should have kept in close contact about expectations, her performance, and where you needed to see improvement. Ideally, she’d use that information to do better. If not, you’re justified in letting her go, and that news likely won’t come as a surprise to her.
  • Be prepared to provide evidence: Aim to keep this conversation short and direct. However, be prepared that the employee might push you for details. In that case, you need to be prepared with some specific examples of times her performance hasn’t measured up, rather than talking in generalities.
  • Take ownership: For better or for worse, you’re the one who needs to break the news. That means you need to take full ownership over that decision. Avoid broad language like, “Everybody has complained that…” or “We’ve all noticed that…” and instead stay focused on your own observations. Even though you’re letting that employee go, you don’t want her to feel unnecessarily ganged up on. 

When Your Company Is Struggling Financially...

Business at your restaurant has slowed significantly, and you aren’t bringing in nearly the amount of revenue you used to. You can’t afford to keep your entire staff employed, and you need to let one of your servers go.

You’re dreading the conversation. This server has always been a solid performer and his dismissal has nothing to do with the quality of his work. You simply need to make some hard decisions to keep your restaurant afloat. 

How to Handle This

As much as you aren’t looking forward to this discussion, keep in mind that it’s going to be even less fun for the employee you’re letting go. 

Regardless of how prepared you are, this interaction probably isn’t going to be pleasant. Even so, you can deliver this news in a way that’s as professional and supportive as possible. Here’s how. 

  • Be upfront about the situation: No matter which way you slice it, getting laid off is a shot to the ego—it stings. Make sure you emphasize the fact that this has nothing to do with that employee’s performance by clearly explaining the financial situation your business is currently dealing with. It won’t make everything better, but at least it will illustrate that the situation was beyond his control and that you value his contributions. 
  • Offer whatever resources you can: One of the best ways to be there for that employee is by offering whatever support you can. Let him know that you’ll gladly serve as a reference or provide a glowing recommendation if he needs one. If you know somebody else in the industry who’s looking for help, offer to make an introduction. It’ll reiterate your investment in that employee and hopefully help you end things on positive terms.

When Your Company Is Restructuring...

Your travel agency is still keeping its head above water financially. But, you still can’t tell when things are going to turn around and you want to be proactive and make strategic decisions.

As a result, you’re restructuring and reevaluating your priorities, which means some positions have become redundant and are no longer necessary.

As just one example, since the majority of your travel agents and specialists are now working from home and you anticipate things staying that way for a while, you no longer need an office manager and have decided to let her go. 

How to Handle This

Even though this decision doesn’t relate to the employee’s performance, it’s still hard to hear that they’re being let go. Being made “redundant” can often make an employee feel unimportant and like they were never really that necessary to begin with. 

That’s not the case, and you want to be sensitive to break this news in a way that drives that point home. Here are a few tips to make that happen.

  • Explain your changing priorities: It’s important to reiterate that this decision isn’t a result of the employee’s performance, but instead relates to your company’s evolving priorities. Give a little bit of context around some of the changes you’re making so that the employee has some visibility into the fact that this decision doesn’t come down to their contributions or the quality of their work.
  • Avoid making empty promises: Particularly if you valued your relationship with the employee, it’s tempting to say things like, “Maybe if something changes in the future, we can bring you back.” If you don’t currently have any evidence or intentions that support that plan, avoid making claims like those. Giving an employee false hope doesn’t accomplish anything. 

5 Other Best Practices for Handling Staff Layoffs

As the above scenarios illustrate, how you or your HR manager handles a layoff will differ depending on the unique circumstances. However, there are a few more best practices you should know that apply across the board. 

1. Find the Right Space

This is a sensitive conversation, and it deserves the right environment. Find a quiet, private space where you can connect with your employee free of distractions, interruptions, or prying eyes. 

2. Prioritize Transparent Communication

Particularly if your company is facing a lot of layoffs, keep in mind that word spreads like wildfire when people start getting pulled into closed-door meetings. You want your staff members to hear news from you and not through the grapevine, so make sure that you’re upfront and honest with employees about what your business is up against and the tough decisions you’re facing. 

3. Practice

It’s completely normal to be nervous to have this hard conversation, which is why it’s smart to rehearse. Practice what you want to say and then try to anticipate the different ways the discussion could pan out. That will give you an opportunity to think through how you want to respond in a variety of situations. 

4. Manage Your Emotions

Be prepared that your employee might become emotional in response to the news that they’re being let go. Getting emotional yourself (whether it’s becoming teary-eyed or engaging in a debate or argument) will only escalate the situation, so try to remain level-headed. Additionally, don’t emphasize how you’re feeling or how hard this decision is for you. At that point, your emotions are the last thing on that employee’s mind—and rightfully so. 

5. Be Prepared

Emotions aside, there are also logistics to sort out when you lay off an employee. From information about a potential severance package to how they can extend their insurance coverage, make sure you have the resources and paperwork they’ll need ready to go and organized in a folder. You can give them that information promptly, rather than making them ask for it when they need it. 

How You Lay Off an Employee Says a Lot About Your Company

Your company culture and employer brand aren’t just shaped by positive interactions and experiences. How you handle sensitive situations—from company restructuring or layoffs to PR crises or unexpected road bumps—says even more about the integrity of your organization.

Having to lay off an employee will never be something that you look forward to. But even so, it’s important that you’re prepared to handle that conversation with tact and professionalism.

Take a deep breath and then use the advice we’ve outlined here to do just that. This conversation will never be easy, but these tips will help make the process at least a little less stressful.