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Athletic apparel brand Outdoor Voices is just the latest in a long line of companies to conduct mass layoffs — and “totally mishandle” them, says a leadership expert.

Employees were notified on Wednesday, via an internal Slack message, that the company was closing all 16 of their brick and mortar stores, “embarking on a new chapter as we transition to an exclusively online business,” according to The New York Times. Two employees told the publication that they were blindsided by the news.

San Francisco-based executive coach Rohan Verma says that while this an unfortunate economic reality, Outdoor Voices could have handled the situation with more care.

“These approaches, especially laying off folks over Slack, lack basic empathy for the employees’ contributions and may only exacerbate the anxiety and shock people are feeling,” Verma told CNBC Make It via email.

This curt approach to layoffs seems to be an increasingly prevalent workplace trend. Meta employees reported that they found out they were laid off via email in 2023. Similar reports have emerged amid recent layoffs at Amazon and Twitter, too.

Outdoor Voices also joins retailers like Dollar Tree, Bath and Body Works and CVS in closing a significant number of their physical stores. The company did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.

How leaders should handle layoffs instead

Workplace experts warn that we’re in a leadership crisis, and that poorly-handled layoffs contribute to workers’ eroding trust for their employers. Verma says there are ways bosses and CEOs can conduct layoffs that don’t leave employees feeling alienated — starting with an actual, authentic announcement.

“When possible, the message should be delivered by a real human, ideally the person’s manager or an HR representative,” Verma says. “Finding out about a layoff via an automated, impersonal, cryptic notification like an email or Slack message is not the most empathetic way to deliver bad news [though] it certainly can be most efficient.”

Take IBM, for example — during an almost seven-minute meeting on Tuesday, IBM’s Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Adashek told employees that the tech company was cutting marketing and communications jobs.

While it doesn’t entirely mitigate the blow, this approach can demonstrate authenticity and sensitivity, according to Heidi K. Gardner, a professional leadership advisor and distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School.

“Every leader who calls himself a leader, who gets paid like a leader, who’s accepted that title of leader, has the responsibility to exhibit ethical leadership,” Gardner told CNBC Make It in 2023. “Failing to communicate with somebody honestly and transparently and humanely before these events have taken effect is shameful.”

This doesn’t mean employers need to announce layoffs with a “Q&A portion to solicit and embrace feedback, because the decision has been made and things can further spiral,” Verma added. But, a more personal approach adds a level of humanity and makes room for important details to be relayed effectively.

In Outdoor Voices’ case, Verma says even a “genuine but firm” video recording might have been a better move than those Slack notifications — especially because they contained information about the company’s shifting business strategy. “This level of nuance is seldom expressed well in writing, coupled with a cold message about a layoff.”

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