By Kathleen D. Sanford, RN, MA, DBA, FACHE
An HFMA Healthcare Financial Pulse Resource
Transparency and understanding will help your staff through a difficult time.
How can I best communicate upcoming layoffs and other cutbacks to my nursing staff?
Sanford: Nurses are not as susceptible to layoffs as other hospital employees, but nursing assistants and LPNs are often among those who lose their jobs when the economy falters. The work done by those people often gets shifted to RNs, so even if nurses aren't being laid off, they should still be included in the communication process.
Layoffs can be very emotional for staff, even those who are keeping their jobs. This is particularly true in economic times like these: People are nervous about their personal financial situations and when they suspect cutbacks are coming, they are less trusting of the leadership who will be implementing them.
As a good manager, you probably already have good relationships with your staff, but layoffs mean that you must work to maintain their trust. The most important thing you can do in this case is communicate, communicate, communicate. Be as transparent as possible and scrupulously honest. When you have information you can share, let your staff know right away. If you have news that must be confidential, tell staff that you cannot share the information at the moment, but will do so as soon as you are able.
Once you know who is being laid off, the way to communicate this depends on how many people will be leaving. If it's just a few staff, you should sit down with each person individually before talking to the larger group. If there will be big layoffs, the best thing to do is to communicate this at a large group meeting, then meet with individuals one on one as soon as possible.
When discussing layoffs with a group, you need to make them understand the rationale. Many organizations make the mistake of assuming that staff know why layoffs are occurring (i.e., that the economy is slow, that the patient census is down, that costs are up, that personnel is the biggest budget item). But these issues need to be detailed for the group, along with how they affect the margin, why the hospital needs to maintain the margin at a certain level, and why it is important to have capital for the future. You should also talk about how the layoff decisions were made--employees need to understand the decision-making process.
The next step is to meet with the individuals being laid off. When you have these meetings, you need to have the information on their last date of employment, severance (if there is any), re-hire rights, and whether there are other positions in the hospital for which they might be qualified. Also, be prepared to again discuss the hospital's rationale for the layoffs. Be sure to make it clear that the decisions were financial, not personal.
When laying people off, it's OK to show sympathy, as long as you remain straightforward and business-like. Some believe that you need to be unemotional, but it can help the person to know that you feel bad about laying them off and wish it didn't have to happen. If the person is an especially good employee, you should offer to provide a letter of recommendation, and let him or her know that you can be called upon as a reference when they interview for other jobs.
Finally, have plans to address survivor guilt. People left behind after a layoff may become less productive, or they may leave their jobs because their friends were laid off. Talk to human resources staff and social workers to develop strategies to deal with survivor guilt, which can last for up to a year.
These are difficult economic times for everyone, and no one wants to lay off staff. However, transparency and solid communication can help ease the process for all employees involved.
Kathleen D. Sanford, RN, MA, DBA, FACHE, is past president of the board of directors of the AONE and senior vice president and chief nursing officer of Catholic Health Initiatives.
Do you have a question for Kathleen? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication Date: Friday, May 01, 2009