When a company needs to downsize or restructure, the threat of layoffs makes for a stressed out workforce. Employees feel anxious, not sure what to plan for, and may feel like they could be the next ones to go.
Unfortunately, this is all too common currently due to company’s need for a COVID response. During these times, management needs to take action to help make the transition easier for employees who are leaving and for employees whose jobs are safe.
In this article, you’ll learn 10 important keys for before, during, and after a layoff to keep office morale and productivity high.
What Should you Say to Employees After A Layoff?
When employees are being laid off left and right, as we see happening during the COVID response, there’s no way around it: office morale will be low. Even employees who know their jobs are secure will feel the stress with company downsizing — they may be losing close friends during a layoff, which disrupts their whole experience at work.
So what’s the best way for a company’s culture to re-emerge following rounds of layoffs? Here are 10 key tips to remember through the layoff process that can make life a little more bearable for your workers.
BEFORE LAYOFFS: HOW TO KEEP MORALE HIGH
Before anything official happens, layoffs, downsizing, and restructuring often involve several closed-door meetings. Tensions may be running high for those in-the-know, and the rest of the team may be wondering what’s happening.
But the management team can lay the groundwork for everyone’s experience of the disruption. The key is to act quickly.
1. COMMUNICATE – WHAT TO SAY TO EMPLOYEES AFTER A LAYOFF
It’s no one’s favorite conversation to have, but managers need to communicate with direct reports as much as they can about impending layoffs. It’s likely there will be directives handed down to middle managers about what they can and cannot say to other workers. Follow the instructions you’ve been given, and communicate with as much compassion as you can.
Company-wide communication can also be helpful, to make sure that everyone has accurate information rather than starting up a rumor-mill. Sending out an email, or hosting a company-wide town hall, that provides context around the layoffs can be helpful. Employees need to understand the “why” behind the layoffs to feel safe, and informed. It’s easier for staff to process decisions that have been made for a concrete reason, such as in response to COVID, than to be left uncertain.
Once the rumor-mill starts up, it can be tricky to get everyone’s focus and attention back to what’s really happening. Nip rumors in the bud, but allow workers to communicate with each other and with managers about their concerns.
2. Be Forgiving
Once an announcement has been made, don’t expect to immediately return to business as usual. Productivity may sink, as workers wonder if they’ll be the first to go. Keep perspective during this time. When employees are apt to be laid off tomorrow, they’re not likely going to put in 110% of their work effort today.
If it’s possible to plan the layoffs at a strategic time, shoot for a time when there are few large projects or mandatory deadlines looming. If you’re taken unaware, as many companies were with their need for a COVID response, it’s important to accept that everyone at your company is experiencing a difficult time.
3. Demonstrate Respect
Faced with the idea of being laid off, employees may feel all kinds of things: fear, anxiety, stress, tension, and even anger. Allow workers to work through what they’re feeling, and as much as possible, demonstrate respect and understanding during this trying time.
Don’t take things personally, and understand if a formerly friendly employee now looks at the management team with distrust.
HOW TO KEEP OFFICE MORALE HIGH DURING LAYOFFS
Strategy may dictate that the best way to downsize a company is by stages, but that’s the worst option when it comes to personnel.
When the layoff process drags out, the entire workforce will be on edge, wondering who will be next or if they’ll have a job tomorrow. It’s best to take the band-aid approach: do it quick to get the pain over with. Doing it all in one day is best, when possible.
4. Be Compassionate
If the management team comes to work during a layoff period with big smiles on their faces, employees could feel like they’re out of touch with everyone else’s experience. On the other hand, being too upset about the layoffs yourself won’t serve to boost office morale either.
Like many things, the answer is in the balance. Communicate to your employees (as often as needed), that you understand that they are feeling upset, confused, or downright scared. Any assurances you can give them would be welcome — just make sure you’re not making unfounded promises.
When a good employee is being laid off, reconsider the typical “escort out the door” method. While that approach may be necessary in the event of a lay off or termination due to an employee’s inappropriate behavior on-the-job, it shouldn’t be the standard way of laying someone off.
5. Pick up Slack
Layoffs are a big disruption and will cause a loss of focus and productivity, no matter how smoothly the process goes. Managers can pick up the slack during this process, to keep working moving along as much as possible.
Take some tasks off your employees hands for a while, or let them know if there are non-necessary items they don’t need to worry about until things return to normal.
6. Be Transparent
As reported by Harvard Business Review, “Most people are loyal first to their manager, then to their company.”
Direct reports will be looking to their supervisor for information on what to expect and what to do next. Managers should do all they can to divulge necessary information in a compassionate way. Be as present and supportive as you can; act with compassion and lead your team by example.
Boosting Morale After Layoffs
When the dust settles, you’re left with the remainders of a team who may be wondering what to expect next. Here are a few keys to keep in mind to ensure an easier transition process to the new normal.
Remaining employees will feel a bit shaken up following a restructuring or downsizing period. This is the time (if not before) to clarify what the restructuring means for those who remain. Management should make sure that they determine answers for the questions below, and that they share those expectations clearly with their team.
- Who will take over the responsibilities that are left over?
- Will employees be expected to cover the work left behind by their peers?
- Have previously-set deadlines and plans changed at all, or do they remain the same?
Taking time to address these questions can save your employees stress, and mean that staff will feel supported, and less productivity will be lost with company downsizing. Management should take time to careful plan ahead, and create a detailed plan that addresses workload for remaining employees.
8. Extend Support
When possible and appropriate, extend an offer to write letters of recommendation for newly laid off workers. Support former colleagues on LinkedIn, and make networking connections where appropriate. Use this opportunity to call on favors and try to do a little match-making in your professional world.
But don’t overstep any boundaries. Start by asking your former colleague if they’re interested in hearing about your networking connections. They may need some time to figure out their next step for themselves. But by positioning yourself as someone who supports their professional growth and development, you won’t be burning any bridges.
9. REBUILD TRUST
After the dust settles, it’s important to build your employees’ trust in the company back up. The ultimate goal of downsizing or restructuring the company is to improve the company in some way, so your remaining employees will likely expect to see some improvement moving forward.
Address this by making sure your team knows that you are investing in the future of the company — and in them! Set up weekly check-ins with employees to make sure they know what opportunities are available to them, and that they feel supported. Share the company’s goals and visions with staff, and ask for feedback.
10. KEEP OFFICE MORALE HIGH
While these may be tough times, it’s important to see the silver lining! Layoffs can often mean that remaining employees take on new projects, offering opportunities to learn, and opening new avenues within the company for career growth. Make sure your staff are aware of these potential positives, and create ways to celebrate your team when they take on new responsibilities.
After at least a full quarter, remaining workers have begun to feel secure in their jobs again. By this time, employees should be back in the swing of things, and new processes or systems should be well underway. Without the daily fear of being laid off, your team may be ready for a bit of a morale-boosting break.
Time and planning should also go into team building activities after layoffs! If you’re still in survival mode, it can be hard to remember the importance of fun extracurricular activities. Office morale can see a huge boost when your staff feels like they’re part of a team. Especially if your remaining employees are working with new teammates they’re not familiar with. Managers can ease this tension with activities such as:
- Hosting an office lunch (even if it’s over a video sharing platform!)
- Taking a group fitness or yoga session together
- Creating an informal slack channel, where staff members can interact casually about topics outside of work
- Throw an employee appreciation event, an awards ceremony, or a just-for-fun party
- Sending out company swag such as stickers, so your staff can represent the company
It’s important to celebrate the wins, as well as triumphing over the losses, in every aspect of business. So once the layoffs are in the past, find a way to make the workplace a little more fun again.