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June 22, 2016 in HR, Employee Management

HR Leaders Can Help Staff Cope with Layoffs

  1. Our companyis faced with a difficult decision. With client activity down and cash flow decelerating, layoffs are our only hope of staying in business. I’ve read a number of horror stories of huge productivity drops and mass defections after layoffs. How can we help our remaining employees cope?
  2. A. Layoffs can leave the remaining employees unsettled and at least a little sad. Although layoffs haven’t yet hit your organization, employees probably have been worried about them for some time. 

Consider these four suggestions to ease your employees’ minds:

  1. Communicate broadly.If time permits, consider relating the possibility of layoffs in a formal “state of the company” memo or e-mail message. Doing so diminishes the appearance that the layoffs are a snap or panicked decision. And when the layoffs do take place, again issue a formal, carefully worded written statement explaining the move. Rather than laying off in “dribbles,” you may want to do it all at once, so you can honestly tell the remaining staff that there will be “no more layoffs.” But if you’re not sure, you should say the situation is uncertain.

Next, hold an all-staff meeting so the faces of your company — owners, managers, HR staff — can use their voices (rather than words on a page or computer screen) to discuss the changes. Include a Q&A session so the remaining employees can ask questions and air their concerns.

  1. Communicate individually.After the company-wide meeting, supervisors should meet with their employees to discuss how the layoffs will affect them. Coach supervisors to stay consistent with the message communicated in the layoff announcement and company meeting.

Supervisors shouldn’t editorialize on the reasons for the staff cuts or speculate on future layoffs. Instead, they should clearly express to each worker exactly how his or her job will change, including specifics about additional duties or projects.

  1. Provide training.Nothing inflates the stress level of layoff survivors like being handed a new task with vague instructions to “feel your way through it” — all while being expected to maintain their existing workload. Hopefully, you already have job responsibilities, policies and procedures well documented for the exiting employees’ positions so that you can provide employees taking over these duties with clear written instructions. Workshops on how to cope also can be invaluable.
  2. Stay positive.Above all, focus on supporting your remaining staff’s morale. Revise your strategic objectives in light of the staff cuts and depict these new goals as a bold, new direction.

Finally, be sure that management and the HR staff stay accessible and responsive. Employees likely will have additional concerns — and may need an occasional pep talk. Keep everybody engaged and productive. Staying positive and consistent in your message will do a lot to help steady the nerves of remaining employees.