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How to re-engage employees post-downsizing and increase productivity

Reductions in force, despite their recent frequency due to technological advances and other workplace trends, still pose challenges for managers who must deliver the notification to valuable employees.

education Updated: Dec 01, 2017 20:52 IST
Reductions in force, despite their recent frequency due to technological advances and other workplace trends, still pose challenges for managers who must deliver the notification to valuable employees.
Reductions in force, despite their recent frequency due to technological advances and other workplace trends, still pose challenges for managers who must deliver the notification to valuable employees.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Reductions in force, despite their recent frequency due to technological advances and other workplace trends, still pose challenges for managers who must deliver the notification to valuable employees. Although organizations are destined to make difficult choices, how people affected by those choices are dealt with, can have long-term effects on future business success.

Even as downsizing has become commonplace, an employee-centric approach is a growing trend that makes offering severance benefits, such as outplacement services, a focus for employers hoping to be empathetic and supportive during the exit process. And while the focus on employees transitioning out of the organization is the right thing to do, employers often neglect to consider the effect of layoffs on the remaining employees, the survivors.

Layoffs are an emotional time for the impacted employees, managers giving the notifications, and the surviving employees. Since survivors aren’t losing their jobs, managers and HR leaders have a tendency to assume remaining employees will feel relieved and easily adjust to workplace changes. Instead of assuming survivors haven’t lost anything, it’s important to consider everything they have lost. It is difficult to watch close friends and colleagues lose their jobs, creating an atmosphere of anxiety over the possibility of losing your own. Internal morale will most likely be down following a layoff, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

To constructively minimise the impact of a reduction in force, managers should take the following proactive steps to motivate survivors and re-establish trust among remaining employees:

Re-emphasize company vision, mission, values

The negative impact on employee morale after layoffs can lead to a loss of company direction and priorities. Companies hoping to continue productivity should take this opportunity to re-emphasize the organization’s mission and values by keeping lines of communication open and offering opportunities for employees to ask questions. If you haven’t already, initiate a rewards and recognition program to engage employees and build an atmosphere of value and appreciation. While the company may not be in the position to offer financial rewards, consider team lunches or other tokens of employee appreciation.

Be visible and accessible

The layoff process is a stressful time for both employers and employees. Too often managers go into a hibernation period following giving notice to valued employees. While those who have been involved in the layoff may feel the need to isolate themselves from the remaining employees, this is not a wise move. In fact, managers should be trained and encouraged to be as visible and accessible as possible, providing information about why the layoff was necessary and answering questions about the future of the company. Managers must be accessible to team members to show solidarity and empathy, by lending an ear.

Bank on effective communication to build trust

As part of the layoff plan, schedule regular departmental or team meetings where members can ask questions, discuss fears and concerns, and understand the plans for future company success. When remaining employees know that their peers and colleagues have been provided with the support they need to find a new job through contemporary outplacement services, they are less likely to experience the guilt and anxiety that often accompanies being the one who is still employed.

Here, it is critical to have an effective communication strategy to reinstate faith and trust. Through effective communication, you’ll help team members let go of the ill-will and progress towards future personal success and renewed productivity.

Re-evaluate work processes, while identifying ways to improve engagement

Those who have survived a round of layoffs are likely to take on added responsibilities, in order to make up for the work normally done by the employees who are no longer there. While necessary to get the work done, taking on more responsibility adds to the stress of surviving employees. Instead of making top-down decisions, make your employees part of the solution. Ask team members to help design more efficient workflows and acknowledge those who find ways to improve work processes and identify ways to improve efficiency. Making your employees part of the solution is a good way to refocus energy on positive action and rejuvenate the workforce.

Continue to offer opportunities for professional growth

While it’s normal to focus on the overall health of the organization following a layoff, it’s important to remember that the employees are the ones who will ultimately lead the company to future success. Don’t cut back on investing in career development programs and opportunities for remaining employees. Set short and long-term goals to remind team members why they choose to work at the company in the first place and bring a renewed sense of focus and job satisfaction.

Lay-offs are difficult for those employees who remain in the organization. How companies approach their surviving employees will have long-term consequences on productivity and the ability to reach business goals. It’s important to remember that surviving employees are particularly in tune with how their employers treat exiting and remaining employees. Just as offering a comprehensive outplacement program communicates humanity towards building an “organizational family”, taking care of the remaining employees will create a positive impact on employer brand, employee loyalty, trust, future productivity, and workplace culture.

(Paul is the director of operations at RiseSmart India. Views expressed here are personal.)