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.
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 9 important keys for before, during, and after a layoff to keep morale and productivity high.
How to Keep Morale Up: Before, During, and After Layoffs
When employees are being laid off left and right, there's no way around it: morale will be low. Even employees who know their jobs are secure will feel the stress -- they may be losing close friends during a layoff, which disrupts their whole experience of work.
So what's the best way for a company's culture to re-emerge following rounds of layoffs? Here are 9 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 Up
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.
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.
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 you can 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.
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 Morale Up 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 morale either.
Like a lot of 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.
- 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?
Clarify these questions even before they're asked.
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. Move On
If the ultimate goal of downsizing or restructuring the company is to improve the company in someway, your remaining employees will expect to see some improvement once the dust settles.
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. This could be an employee appreciation event, an awards ceremony, or a just-for-fun party. 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.