“We are, all of us, meaning seeking people.” -Alex Lickerman, M.D.

We, as humans, have an innate nature of curiosity – of wanting to learn more about the world around us, and the reasoning behind why things are the way they are. Take a moment to think about it. Are we not constantly asking questions like why traffic is bad for miles? Or why did my dog chew my flip flops? Some things are easier to understand than others, while other questions we may truly never come to understand. And when we don’t know the why behind certain things, our minds create a theory or belief to answer the why. In some cases this can be good, but in many cases we tend to think the worst. That’s why, when going through a layoff or difficult changes at work, it is so important to explain the why.

I started my article with a quote from Alex Lickerman, M.D., because he speaks a great deal on the importance of why people need to know the why. In an article he wrote, “Why We Need to Know the Why”, Dr. Lickerman explains that people are “far more likely to accept change if they understand the reasoning for it…Even if the change fails to benefit us—even if it causes us harm in some way—if our sense of fairness is satisfied, we’re far more likely to accept and even embrace it.” When going through a layoff, it can be difficult to explain the why behind the changes, however it is crucial that you do – and that it is very clear to all employees why the change is happening. A colleague of mine went through a layoff a few years ago and the company did not explain the why. I remember the phone call I received from him the day it happened – he was not thrilled. He had hit every target and had received outstanding reviews 5 years in a row, and the company was having a record year. There was no real reasoning behind the decision that was explained to him (or his three colleagues that were also laid off at the same day), other than he was receiving a severance package. How do you think him – or anyone – would feel after going through something like this?

Explaining the why can have a perception of being difficult, yet it is one of the most important things that needs to be done when going through a layoff. Not explaining the why can have consequences that you, as an employer, may never be able to bounce back from. Reduced employee morale of those still employed, negative press about the company and it’s reputation (remember, we live in a digital world), and a perception from all employees of lacking empathy and respect for those impacted. Combined, these issues can easily lay unnecessary burden for any company – and, in some cases, a burden that they may not be able to bounce back from.

We all have a burning desire to understand the world around us. There are things, of course, that we may never understand. But for the things we have the power to explain to others, we must. Going through a layoff is never easy, but explaining the why to all levels of the organization is important to provide closure and a sense of understanding. And, of course, it shows everyone that your company has the power to show empathy and respect for your workforce.

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