Aug 18, 2021

Lessons from the pandemic about layoffs

 One of the unfortunate truths of business is that businesses go through cycles - during periods of growth people are hired, however when businesses go through downturns it is not easy to let people go.

While many organizations often say that people are their most important assets - the truth is that people are not like their other assets. Capital like land, machinery can be resold, but people cannot. The time and resources invested in hiring, training and developing people is only realised by their performance. When business declines due to whatever circumstances, people costs have to be written off.

As many business leaders found out during the first wave of pandemic, letting people go is not easy. It’s tough to tell people that they are being let go for no fault of theirs - either because of an external event like the pandemic or internal changes like a change in strategic direction (or as is more commonly known these days, as a pivot)

Layoffs must be (to borrow a term from the hospitality industry) HWC - Handled with C - where C stands for Care, Compassion and Communication 

Layoffs in the new normal are different than earlier. That’s because conversations are mostly virtual and can cause people who are uncomfortable with dealing with empathy to deliver it coldly - or be perceived as cold by the people getting laid off.

In fact, a year ago, the phrase “Fired over Zoom” gained prominence in the popular lexicon as many people including a renowned journalist Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker used the phrase to document in public posts about the nature of their dismissals.

Let’s see what each of the C’s mean


The leaders in the organization must care about their people as human beings and not just their skills, talent or to see them as a pair of hands or “bodies” (as they are egregiously referred to in certain industries)

This does not happen in a vacuum, however. An organizational culture supported by structures and processes that recruit, promote and develop managers and leaders who care for their people. 

You know a leader and manager cares about their people when they know each of their team members and their specific life as well as professional situation.


Compassion in organization is “empathy in action”. Empathy is putting oneself in the shoes of others and understanding the emotion they are going through. It means listening to the viewpoint without judging them. When an employee is given the negative news that they along with others are going through, they will invariably go through the five stages of grief as stated in the Kubler-Ross model - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. A compassionate leader and manager needs to understand this and be with their teams as they go through the stages. 


In these times when layoffs probably mean they will happen remotely - there are some principles. When in the middle of a difficult conversation, it’s common to focus solely on yourself: your ideas, your viewpoint, your feelings. But a “me-centric” approach can backfire. 

Before communicating, leaders should have all the facts ready and anticipate what kind of most common questions employees will ask. It is imperative to get details from the HR, Legal and Finance groups on how the layoffs will be handled smoothly at a process level - so that people do not have to run from pillar to post, after they have been let go, to get what is rightfully theirs. The message delivered should be clear, concise, and unequivocal. People should not be left confused about their status. However, this does not mean that the message should be delivered coldly. If it is delivered via a video conference eye contact needs to be maintained. 

When Airbnb announced that it was letting go of employees, CEO Brian Chesky authentically and transparently conveyed the company’s decision-making process and values. You can read the full text here 

How can organizations support the employees who are impacted?

According to this article by Randstad Risesmart: “When the difficult decision to lay off is made, employers who provide support for those impacted as well as those remaining, are employers who will be regarded as some of the best places to work when the time comes to hire again.”

This can be done by partnering with an organization that can offer career guidance and outplacement services to the impacted employees. This will ensure that professionally trained coaches and experts will be on hand to help with the planning and preparation, including manager notification training to ensure smooth transitions for the company and the impacted employees.



Layoffs are an unfortunate truth of businesses and while regrettable, business leaders can deal with it by treating their people with enough care, compassion and correct communication. A best practice that emerged was many leaders publicly sharing a list of impacted employees and urging other organizations to hire them. By doing such actions leaders display their commitment to their people.

Suggested readings 

Jun 22, 2021

May 27, 2021

The Voluntary Employee Exit Process: The often ignored part of building a relationship

It is a scene that plays out every day in many organizations across the world. An employee walks into his or her supervisor’s office (or emails him or her in the age of remote working) and lets them know that they are tendering their resignation after serving the notice period specified in the offer letter when they joined. 

How the supervisor responds then shapes the employee experience to a large extent.

And, how the supervisor responds is dependent on the relationship they shared and the conversations they have had until this point. 

It is often said when employees join they join organizations, but when they leave they leave managers. While that may not always be true, it cannot be denied that the immediate manager or supervisor plays an outsized role.

The importance of having an exit process that is empathetic and treats every employee as a human being is critical. When a person is heard and acknowledged on their way out they can act as ambassadors and share their positive stories with prospective candidates who reach out to them. When a person is treated with disrespect or when the supervisor or Human Resource representative lets the process take precedence over human factors it can lead to an irreparable damage to the relationship between parties

According to research by Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg, many companies don’t even conduct exit interviews. Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action. They suggest having interviews conducted by second- or third-line managers. Make exit interviews mandatory for at least some employees. And because standard interviews enable you to spot trends, but unstructured ones elicit unexpected insights, consider combining the two approaches in semistructured interviews.

A strategic Exit Interview program provides insight into what employees are thinking, reveals problems in the organization, and sheds light on the competitive landscape.

How should a manager behave when an employee resigns?


  1. The first thing a manager should not try to do is make it about himself or herself. Resist the urge of saying “How could you do this to me?” Doing so makes the employees defensive and probably close up.

  2. The manager should not, on the other hand suppress, their own emotions. Acknowledging it is important. Especially for first time manager it can lead to self-doubt. Talking to a coach (if available) or a senior professional could be a way to deal with it.  

  3. Do not blame the employee for being ungrateful

  4. Do not treat the employee as a traitor  out to share trade secrets with competitors., cutting them out of team meetings during the remainder of their notice period


  1. Listen to the employee without judgement. Take their word at face value. In an example a startup entrepreneur shared with me, when he told his employer that he was leaving to pursue an idea to build a business, his manager did not believe him. They suspected that it was just an excuse and he was off to join some competitor. The entrepreneur shared that though his employment was okay enough, this lack of trust soured the relationship with his former employer

  2. The manager should realise that every resignation is an opportunity - an opportunity to relook at root causes where it broke down and to truthfully share that with the organization so that such mistakes are minimised and reduced in the future. Often these will trigger a need for self-reflection and requires a degree of self awareness for a manager to reflect on his or her own behaviour that might have led to a breakdown in the relationship. This would give data for possible development needs for the manager. 

  3. Listen to the employee’s needs during the notice period. Do they want to serve out the full notice period or adjust the remainder of their leaves against some portion of the notice period. Organizations in India specifically have long notice periods of two to three months, which in my opinion is not needed for a majority of roles in most organizations. However if the employee has a rare skill that is not readily available in the market then retaining such an employee should have been the first priority. If their new employer wants them to join early and is willing to buy out the notice period, then trying to not let that happen and forcing the employee to work is counterintuitive - and yet we come across so many cases of employers trying to do the same thing. It makes the exit process difficult and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of both parties

  4. Managers and employers should look at it as the continuance of an existing relationship and not as the end of one. If organizations look at themselves as ‘learning academies’ where people come to learn and perform - they will look at their ex-employees as alumni and brand ambassadors. This shift of thinking should be driven by the very top of the organization. Treating alumni well can lead to tangible gains like business  (something that management consulting firms like McKinsey are famed for) as well as acting as referrers of great talent (hereby saving recruitment related costs) that the company needs. People tend to trust the opinion of ex-employees more than others as they are seen as more credible than other sources.

The bottom line is that managing the exits of employees is as important, if not more , as the entry of people into an organization.

One way organizations can do this is creating a cross functional team that looks at simplifying processes to make exits across the organization, and empowering managers to take decisions that are beneficial in the long term interests of the departing employee as well as the organization. It needs to comprise CXOs like the COO, the CTO, the CFO and the CHRO.

This team should also hold development sessions for managers on the dos and don'ts on dealing with their people when they submit their resignations. In fact, it should be a part of every new manager orientation and development. For that the leadership itself has to come up  with a philosophy on how they view departing employees and that then can percolate within the organization. 

Post courtesy Randstad Risesmart

May 22, 2021

Gautam Ghosh's Employer Branding Consulting Profile

Gautam is an Independent HR Consultant, specialising in Employer Branding, helping organizations tell their stories by leveraging digital media

XLRI Jamshedpur honoured him with the Distinguished Alumnus – Young Achiever award in 2014

A video where he is interviewed on Employer Branding in the new normal can be seen here

He was the Director – Talent Branding at Flipkart.  He managed the social media outreach to specific talent segments. He doubled the followers on LinkedIn from 75,000 to 150,000 organically, and created the @WorkatFlipkart twitter  account. The YouTube video “Get a job with Flipkart” (partnering with MTV and LinkedIn) got 460,000 views, maximum applications. He worked on Employer Value Proposition of the eKart business unit. Standardised the job descriptions across channels and businesses. Designed and produced a leadership document for prospective senior hires to go through. Partnered with the HR systems team to implement the Recruitment Marketing module of SAP Success Factors and revamp the career site. Worked with the marketing and internal communications to drive messages to key talent segments internally and externally. Read his blog post on Employer Branding with Flipkart examples. 

Prior to that he was the GM Strategy & Projects at Philips India where he was responsible for leading Philips India’s employer branding initiative leveraging digital media and social platforms. Mentored the CEO, HR Head and Head of Strategy on understanding digital platforms. Trained the IT function and HR function on effectively leveraging social platforms. Grew organic Facebook fans from 2000 to 10,000 in a year. Led and managed campus focused campaigns as well as events to showcase employer brand and  thought leadership and events for Philips. A blogpost co-authored with my colleagues posted on the CHRO, Yashwant Mahadik’s website on how to leverage social media in HR and Employer Branding. Gautam’s blog post on Philips India’s journey in building the capability  

He has delivered workshops on social media and business at leading B Schools like IIM Calcutta, XLRI Jamshedpur as well as for industry bodies like National HRD Network, SHRM India, Social Media Day, NIPM amongst others.

SHRM India listed him as the number 1 HR influencer on social media in 2015

HuffingtonPost rated him 7th in the list of Top Most Social HR Experts on Twitter in the world.

Forbes has featured him as a Social Media Thought Leader.

SAP has listed him in the 51 Human Potential Influencers.

Other recognitions include Top 100 Influencers in HR, Top 25 Digital Influencers in HR, and the top 50 Influential and dynamic HR by Economic Times HR World

Also posted at this site

Feb 18, 2021

Cognizant's $30 million corpus to give counter offers to people who resign

 So this news about Cognizant came out yesterday:

In an unusual move and in a bid to tackle its high attrition rate, Cognizant has set up a $30-million corpus, dubbed as a retention fund, to hold back top performers and digitally-skilled employees. The corpus is used when such employees receive offers from competitors. Cognizant, sources said, matches the competitor’s offer.

In my opinion, counter-offers don't work in the long term. If it takes a resignation from an employee for an employer to raise their salary to what a competitor is offering, then the employee-employer trust is broken to be replaced by a mercenary mindset

It will also lead to others in the company thinking that if a resignation is the only way they can get their employer to notice them, then employee engagement goes for a toss.

What is intriguing is the way that Cognizant is publicising this corpus. It's almost like they are encouraging their skilled talent to be mercenary minded. That almost never ends well. We have to wait and watch how it turns out for Cognizant in the long run.

Feb 2, 2021

My LinkedIn Live conversation with Harsh Johari on #EmployerBranding in the new normal

 Today I had an interesting conversation with my friend Harsh Johari who is a Executive and Change Leadership Coach on the value of Employer Branding in the new normal.

You can see the full 42 minute long conversation here

Jan 30, 2021

Recap of the panel on Digital HR at the Economic Times HR World Conference

 As I had stated earlier, I moderated a session on Digital HR yesterday. 

It went off quite well, and here's a recap of the discussion:

Priyanka Anand, VP and Head of HR, South East Asia, Oceania & India, Ericsson, said, “When the pandemic happened, 85,000 employees overnight started working from home in Ericsson across 180 countries. It was an overnight decision to prioritise employee safety over anything else.”

Vishpala Reddy, Head - HR, Indian Subcontinent, Philips, described the use of technological tools as non-negotiable in the present times, as the push to go digital for curriculum happened in 2020. On being asked how these tools would be useful, she said, “As an HR practitioner, the three buckets would be Business Continuity, Learning and Engagement.”

Talking about the data collected through surveys and employee engagement programmes, the experts acknowledged that ‘data is the king’. Adding to this, Anand said, “Analytics is the eye of the fish and that's how we run the HR function.”

Rajiv Kumar, VP and Country Leader - India, SumTotal Systems, talked about the uncertainties when the pandemic hit and how the HR played an important role in enabling the smooth functioning of organisations.

Jan 28, 2021

Moderating a panel on #DigitalHR at the #ETHRNexTech virtual conference by @ETHRWorld

 I am be looking forward to moderating a panel discussion on #DigitalHR at the #ETHRNexTech virtual conference by

The panel discussion would be on  Digital HR: An inside look at how next gen technologies are changing the workplace and people practices

My fellow panelists are:
Priyanka Anand, VP & Head HR, South East Asia, Oceana & India, Ericsson
Vishpala Reddy, Head HR, Indian SubContinent, Philips Rajiv Kumar, VP & Country Leader-India, SumTotal Systems

Looking forward to interacting with you all there 😀