Q: How can I keep my employees motivated and inspired after a small-scale layoff? Our organization went wrong on a few points in the process; they communicated minimally which left many of us wondering exactly how large it was going to be, and it caught many by surprise. Is there a way to reel it in and keep my direct reports engaged?
A: The news keeps talking about the impending recession, and as a result, many employees are worried about what will happen at their organization should that turn into a reality. I appreciate the goal of keeping your employees motivated because to the people impacted, no layoff seems small-scale. Though it may have been a small number of people, it’s them – and to the colleagues who know those people, all layoffs are large.
Communication is key in any kind of layoff, corporate change, or organizational change, whether it’s adding or changing roles, or merging or acquiring organizations. Most leaders feel they’re communicating adequately, whereas most of their employees feel they get little to no communication. So managers, up the communication game – and employees, feel free to go to your manager and ask questions about what’s happening and encourage them to communicate more if they can.
Let your employees know that you will communicate with them as much as you possibly can about changes in the organization, and reassure them that the organization will treat them well. Your direct reports are concerned about what might happen to them in the future, and a part of how they’re gauging that is how their colleagues were treated. Following the layoff, ensure you communicate that those impacted by the layoff were given severance, benefits continuation, and job search support or outplacement. If you have positive news from their former colleagues about landing new jobs, then, with their permission, you can share that information with your current employees. This will offer some level of reassurance to your employees that will help you continue to keep them engaged.
Moving forward, good steps to follow after a layoff are, first, keeping an open-door policy. Be highly visible. As soon as you’re in a closed-door meeting, people will be afraid that another reduction is brewing. Next, you want to recognize great work when you see it. Even though the response back might not be as positive as you would like – it might even be somewhat cynical – continue to recognize it. Approach people who are reacting or acting differently than before the layoff and ask them if there’s anything that you can do to help them. Give people a little bit more leeway in the immediate aftermath of something like this, but let them know that you’re there to support them. Engagement requires purpose, connection, and feeling valued by the organization. If you can ensure those, you can reengage your direct reports. And hopefully you’re in a position to communicate with those who led the reduction on what you can do to improve the process in the future.