The final quarter of 2022 has been a tumultuous period for many employers. There have been numerous high-profile layoffs, including Amazon’s 10,000-person layoff, and Meta’s 11,000-person reduction in November 2022 alone. Companies have undergone hiring freezes as inflation has continued to rise. It’s been a challenging time for companies and individuals alike.
The reality is our economy ebbs and flows. This cyclical nature, while not always reassuring at the moment, is a fact of professional life, and managing effectively through challenging times is of critical importance to maintain stability. Following a layoff or otherwise monumental business shift, retaining and engaging the workforce that IS still with the company should be at the top of every executive’s list. Consider the following strategies to keep your remaining workforce engaged and motivated during tough times.
Lead with Transparency
High-profile business changes such as layoffs are cause for anxiety across a business, even for those who remain on board. The worst thing leadership can do is fail to communicate what’s happened and why. We live in a world where social media will control the narrative unless leaders take proactive measures. Lead with a sense of empathy but be direct. If the layoffs were a result of poor company performance, be honest and don’t sugarcoat. Embrace transparency and get ahead of the questions – don’t let your employees speculate and feed the rumor mill. If employees will be responsible for assuming more work – let them know. If you’re confident this will be the only round of layoffs let them know, but if you’re not sure – be honest. This is a time for humility, transparency, and respect.
Of equal importance is ensuring management at all levels is communicating the same message. “Companies should consider devoting a day or two to training and discussion sessions to help managers build their confidence in delivering empathetic and consistent messaging around layoffs”, notes HBR. Managers might be struggling too, so acknowledging their anxiety while adequately preparing them for how to communicate will reduce the risk of inconsistent or inappropriate messaging.
Studies have shown that Americans spend nearly one-third of their lives at work. People become connected to their coworkers, and work is a community. When that community is disrupted, this can be both painful and shocking. It’s critical to acknowledge the impact layoffs can have on existing employees, and even more important to offer support. Leaders should actively facilitate conversation to ensure voices are heard. As Randstad Risesmart suggests, “Recovery from a layoff is faster and easier if managers and employees are allowed to speak their minds freely about what’s happened. Hold focus groups and employee meetings to help facilitate employee conversations.” It’s ok to ask employees to behave according to company policies and values but stifling all discussion about the layoffs will have a far more negative impact than allowing people to express their concerns.
Align on a shared sense of purpose
The path forward likely looks different after layoffs than it did before. Let people know what – if anything – has changed and get clear on everyone’s part in it. Layoffs aren’t done without significant reason, and ensuring remaining employees understand the “why” is important. As HBR shares, “When employees understand that management is reshaping the company for future stability and growth while treating people with dignity and keeping opportunities open when possible, they will be more likely to respond with their best efforts.” Treat people like adults, and they will generally respond like adults.
Retaining employees is important in all facets of business, but especially so when a business has undergone significant change. Leading from a position of honesty and not from a position of fear will go far to ingratiate the remaining employees to the company. Consider external support during tough times as well. Teamraderie can provide support through experiences that focus on trust, transformation, and bonding, allowing your team to refocus after a difficult experience. Demonstrate you care about your people and your business, even in challenging times, and engender confidence in your path forward!