Due to the recent economic downturn, I am obliged to fire one of my best employees: he is proactive, his work is always sharp, he is a team player, and he is an evangelist of the vision of the company, not only in his department but in the entire company. Unfortunately we are currently in "survival mode" and his position (software developer) is not fundamental for the survival of the company. So I have to let him go.
I'm not only sad because I'm losing a great person, but also because I don't want to lose his trust: he is at the top of my list when we will start hiring again - hopefully in a few months... But how could he accept the job again after we clarified that his position is not fundamental for the company's survival and therefore he could be let go again?
Well, first, make sure you don't say you're firing him, since that implies he did something wrong. You're laying him off. Firing is for cause, whereas a layoff is about eliminating the position.
Now that that's out of the way... well, this sucks. And all you can really do is tell him what you've said here. Tell him all the reasons you value him. And tell him the reality that you're being forced into by finances.
You should also tell him that he's at the top of your list when you're hiring again. You're right that he might be hesitant to return because he'd question his future job security. But he deserves to be able to make his decisions with full, complete, honest information -- and yes, his decision might be not to return in the future, if he judges it's not the best move for him. But all you can do is be straightforward with him, give him as much information as you can, and respect his decisions.
Actually, that's not all you can do. You can also help him in the way you handle the layoff. Specifically:
- Tell him as soon as possible. Don't leave him in the dark now that the decision has been made.
- Be as generous as you can in his severance package.
- Continue his health insurance if you can, for as long as you can.
- Help with job-hunting leads, including setting up introductions to others who may be able to help.