Layoffs are wrenching for companies in many ways. First, there is the sobering reality that layoffs are necessary for the bottom line. Next come the anguishing decisions about what areas to cut, followed by the unpleasant task of sharing the news. No wonder company leaders want to wash their hands of this matter once they hand out the severance packages.
But ending it there isn't an effective strategy. After all, you still have to manage the morale and productivity of remaining employees. Here are five strategies for guiding workers through this tough time:
- Treat the departing well. As you show employees the door, act respectfully. The rest of the staff will be watching how you handle those who leave. Keep in mind that these were their co-workers and perhaps their friends, not just names on a spreadsheet. Also, don't demean ex-employees or imply that now that they're gone the company will thrive.
- Tell the truth. Talk with workers about the business conditions that led to the layoff. Don't sugercoat it in an attempt to avoid panicking employees. If you've had layoffs before, they may be panicked before you break the news and they'll be sensitive to "spin."
- Let employees be open and honest. Workers are going to feel shock at first, so acknowledge that it's a tough time for everyone. Assure your staff they can air their concerns and no questions are off-limits. Answer queries truthfully and succinctly. Also, managers should meet with each of their direct reports privately to give everyone the chance to discuss concerns and the impact of the layoffs on the department.
- Help them deal with questions from the public. Your workers interact with customers or the public, so arm them with appropriate responses to questions they're likely to get. Be sure they know what, if any, information should stay in the company and what they can share with outsiders. Also, let employees know whom to turn to if they can't handle queries.
- Move forward. Layoffs are scary for workers, but an employer with no plan to change the current conditions is even scarier. Communicate with your staff often about the steps your company is taking to correct the situation that led to layoffs and ask for their ideas on how to save money. Having frequent conversations about this topic helps employees calm down and keeps this message top of mind.
Finally, share and celebrate incremental progress. Highlighting early wins can help shift employees' mindset from stewing about the layoffs to focusing on the future.