9 Ways to Reassure Employees Who Survive Layoffs
All layoffs cause pain. But they seldom cause anger by themselves. That anger comes when layoffs lack transparency and are handled unprofessionally. This makes people feel that their intelligence is being undermined. No one wants to look stupid.
Layoffs are taxing even for the management. That’s why they often tend to ignore downsizing survivors, who are dealt with in two standard steps – 1) Email from the CEO, 2) A pep talk by line managers. However, reassuring employees who survive layoffs is critical. If done well, it can even energize the company and create a foundation for the next phase of growth.
1. Treat the affected employees with respect
The process starts with the layoffs themselves. Ensure that affected employees are treated with empathy and are paid fair severance. Disgruntled employees never keep it to themselves. They share their discontent with their colleagues. This can jeopardize your best efforts to reassure those who survive layoffs.
If the affected employees vent out their frustrations and your team embraces a hostile attitude, you are forced into a reactive stance. Reassuring then becomes more about damage control than an opportunity to motivate your team.
2. Be transparent
When layoffs happen, the strongest impulse among employees is – Why? Why did the layoffs happen? Why were their friends affected? They don’t want pep talks or wish to see “silver linings”. All they want is 100% transparency.
Schedule a meeting with your team to address these questions before rumors spread. Strictly avoid any small talk and immediately address what’s on everyone’s mind.
Be honest and tell your team the reasons why layoffs happened and why specific people were fired. Don’t sugarcoat your answers. Stress on the measures taken by the company to support those who were affected (severance, leave encashment, references for next opportunity, etc.).
If no further layoffs are planned, state it clearly to your team. This would go a long way in reassuring them.
3. Don’t pass the baton
A common mistake that many managers make is that they dodge taking responsibility for layoffs by passing the baton to top management. It doesn’t matter who took the final call on layoffs or what business condition led to it. If your team was affected by it, as a manager you are responsible for it. Any attempts to deny that will only diminish the respect of the team.
Own your company’s decisions. As a manager, you need to be the embodiment of the entire organization’s management for your team.
Layoffs are a management failure. Be apologetic in your tone and focus on the steps taken to avoid such situations in the future.
4. Don’t force fun
Layoffs will hit team morale severely. Survivors will be demotivated and even contemplate looking for a new job. That’s okay. That’s normal.
What’s not normal is when managers try too hard to fix this by organizing team-building activities or workshops. This is equivalent to telling a depressed person to cheer up.
There is no easy way out of this situation and forcing it would only make matters worse. It will give the impression that the management isn’t as deeply stirred by layoffs as the employees.
Treat employees as adults and give them both space and time to absorb the situation at their own pace. They should feel supported, not patronized.
5. Be considerate and approachable
The team productivity, like morale, will dwindle after layoffs. Acknowledge it and show higher tolerance to mistakes for a few weeks. Be approachable to your team. If anyone wants to talk with you, they should feel comfortable in doing so.
Support your team by listening to their concerns and addressing them specifically. Be patient if the concerns don’t disappear overnight even when you’ve addressed them. Be especially mindful of survivor guilt that’s a common offshoot of layoffs. People who survive layoffs occasionally translate their despair into guilt for holding to their jobs when their friends have been fired.
6. Discuss workload
Analyze the workload of laid-off employees and figure out which tasks are redundant and which need to be reassigned. Whether this is a temporary solution or a permanent change.
Assign these additional responsibilities to your team. If this significantly increases workload, then help your team with prioritization. Mention which additional responsibilities you would be taking over as well. It’s important to reassign a part of the workload to yourself.
Additional work will provoke a mixed bag of reactions. Some employees might feel overwhelmed and get worried about maintaining their quality. Hear their concerns and help them prioritize. Those who are more ambitious would cherish the opportunity to take on more responsibility. Motivate them by telling them how their new responsibilities will help them grow in the organization.
7. Scout for leaders
Times of distress create opportunities for new leaders to rise. Post layoffs, observe which of your team members show initiative and drive to make things better. Who does the group look for support when you’re not around.
Empower such informal leaders by giving them more authority. When they feel motivated, the rest of the team would too. Have a candid chat and tell them that you see leadership potential in them. And that in such tough times, they will play an important role in normalizing things.
8. Look for the next milestone
Shift the team’s focus on the next big milestone. Setting a goal and achieving it is the best way to truly move on from the effects of a layoff.
The next milestone doesn’t need to be something big. It can be anything that energizes your entire team, from hitting quarterly KPIs to finishing an important project. Hitting the next milestone will give your team the opportunity to celebrate and get back on track.
9. Explain hiring decisions
Most layoffs are cost-cutting measures. Occasionally, they might happen due to internal restructuring. In such cases, layoffs might be followed by hiring. This can agitate the team and make them question the company’s decision.
“Why are we hiring just after letting our friends go? Did all the problems leading to layoffs suddenly disappear?”
It’s best to proactively dispel such thoughts. If the company is hiring after layoffs, explain the reasons to your team. They’ll appreciate that the management is being considerate enough to do that.