Question: Last year, a promotion came up at the IT firm where I work. A colleague and close friend pushed me to put myself forward. When I got the job she was the first to celebrate with me.
Now, due to budget restraints, the company is downsizing and I have been tasked with letting a number of staff go. I was gutted to see my friend’s name on the list and have no idea how to break the news to her. Can you advise me on how I can approach this situation without losing her friendship?
Answer: This is no doubt a very challenging time for you both personally and professionally. Supervising a friend can have its benefits if they are a loyal follower of yours and ensure that at no time they let the side down. But it can have its challenges when tough discussions must take place such as terminations. You have to consider how to have this uncomfortable discussion with the hope of minimal damage to the personal relationship. Planning the conversation and the following pointers will help you to approach it in a more professional light. Be prepared for an emotional response. How you handle this will determine the future status of your friendship.
Make the conversation brief: Be brief when having the ‘manager’ conversation and offer yourself for the ‘friend’ conversation after work. Keep the actual conversation brief and isolate your friendship until this is delivered – this is important for both your own state of mind and for the way your friend perceives the action.
Don’t procrastinate: Be direct about the decision. Beating around the bush or using humour will not soften the blow and can give a false impression that things can be turned around.
Plan your points: Consider writing down some pointers. Layout the course of action succinctly and honestly – the same as you would for any employee. Present the reasons for the redundancy and offer your sympathy. “It’s not our call to make, as the business needs have changed. I wish there was another way, but my hands are tied.”
Anticipate the reaction: Any employee will feel hurt and shocked after losing their job and may say things out of anger. The fact that a perceived friend is delivering the news will obviously complicate the matter. You need to understand that your friend might try blaming you as a member of the management team, so prepare to deal with that response.
Reiterate the value of your friendship: Make it clear that friendship is a separate issue and that the company is also losing out here at a time of uncertainty. The redundancy situation is a purely economic issue. Soften this reality by explaining that as far as you’re concerned, your work situation will not interfere with your social relationship and reassure them that your friendship will remain on the same footing as always.
Use the opportunity to comfort: Approach the process as an unfortunate opportunity but use your knowledge of your friend to make the delivery of the redundancy news as smooth and as painless as possible.
Be there, but don’t be pushy: Your friend may be hurt and upset, so continuous texts or calls might make things worse. Let them know you are there for them and are available to meet but let it be their decision. This is not the time to be overly pushy about meeting up.
Offer your ongoing support: Explain the severance package, help them plan to find their next job, offer an excellent reference and work through cover letters, CV updating, and interview preparation. Perhaps use your network to see what is going on in the market and make some introductions for them.
Tough business decisions can be hard to deliver. If you clearly point out the reasons behind the business change, and back this up with data to highlight to your friend that all avenues were explored before the decision was made, then hopefully – with your support and guidance – it will make the initial impact a little easier.
This article was first published in the business section of The Sunday Independent on the 15th of October 2017, and the original article can be found here.