Amid layoffs and restructuring related to the current economic issues and lingering affects of COVID, it’s imperative to recognize the feelings and accommodate the needs of employees still in the workforce who are dealing not only with seeing their team members lose their jobs, but also with personal challenges that are often invisible, undefined, and complicated.
Studies show that nearly three-quarters (74%) of employees retained after a layoff saw their productivity decline afterwards, while 69% said that the quality of their company’s product or service deteriorated. When these respondents were asked why they felt that way, they expressed feelings of guilt, anxiety, burnout, and anger.
Even 2 years into the pandemic, uncertainty looms and more interruptions to how many organizations do business seems inevitable. With a lack of public enthusiasm for the spending habits that typically fuel the economy, it seems like more shifts and upheaval in the labor market could be on the way.
While challenging times like these can certainly be disheartening, and as stressful for you as your team, there are ways to bring everyone together, and keep those remaining employees motivated and focused.
Prioritize motivation over management
To keep employees motivated despite challenging circumstances, let your mantra be, “Lead first, manage second.” Rather than zeroing in on management duties related to tasks and processes, focus on your core function as a leader — capturing the hearts and minds of employees. Taking care of the well-being of people who carry the business is always good for business.
To create an environment in which employees and remote teams can maintain their motivation levels and keep their spirits up in the midst of challenges, leaders need to focus on five areas:
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Communicate with clarity
In down times, ambiguity is the enemy and creates disengaged employees. Ambiguity leads to conflict and discouragement because employees are left to fill in the blanks at the very time they are feeling most fearful and uncertain about their jobs. Work diligently to remove as much ambiguity as possible from your organization by:
· Over-communicating what you do know and be honest about what you don’t know.
· Repeating the information often.
· Helping your employees put their current reality into perspective.
· Clearly defining current organizational goals and their roles in achieving those goals.
Additionally, stop encouraging employees to “think outside the box” during this time of organizational change. That kind of direction can actually derail motivation levels because it comes across as out of touch with reality. Redirect employee energy from resistance to problem-solving by encouraging them to “think inside the box,” where the “box” consists of goals on the one hand and constraints currently in place (such as a freeze on headcount or limited funding) on the other. This will help generate actual solutions that respect the very real constraints on your employees.
Remember, notifying managers and exiting employees of an impending layoff is only one part of your larger communication plan. You’ll also want to communicate this direction with your surviving employees and discuss the root of the decision in order to maximize retention and engagement.
When addressing your employees, be authentic. Don’t evade the subject or make up a story that softens the blow. Be direct, honest, and compassionate. This is senior management’s opportunity to reassure its employees and show they are valued.
Instill trust to safeguard motivation
Reductions in force during uncertain times, like layoffs or furloughs, can do a number on your teams. If you’ve had to lay off your employees, you may end up spending more time adjusting organizational goals, team priorities, and individual workloads than helping your business grow and succeed. To avoid further disengagement and turnover, make sure you have an effective plan in place. Without it, the layoff could breed mistrust among your employees.
An important part of learning how to support employees during layoffs is working to ensure that your employees can trust you as a consistent, dependable leader who is committed to their best interests and outcomes. While you may not be able to reassure your employees that their jobs are secure, you can assure them that you will work diligently to develop them and their skills so that they are best prepared to handle whatever comes their way.
Resist the urge to share your own disgruntled fears or collude with your employees against the company. This actually threatens your trustworthiness. They are looking for you to put aside your needs and fears and to provide realistic and inspirational leadership — step up and give it to them.
Buy-in is inspirational
Too often during an economic downturn, leaders require less “buy-in.” That is, they begin to expect and accept less from their employees. “Since I can’t give you a great raise, I guess buy-in is optional.” Many leaders believe that engagement and happiness come from a lack of stress at work, when in fact they come from teamwork, accountability, and a shared vision. Insist on buy-in each and every day.
Hold your employees accountable to succeed despite the circumstances. Let their motivation be built by overcoming difficulties under the direction of a great leader who cares about them, recognizes their great achievements, and values the employee experience.
In challenging times, focus on development
Give your employees time, attention, and challenging assignments. The greatest development does not come from attending training, it happens when employees are given challenging assignments and are supported and coached accordingly. Make your commitment to employee development conscious and visible. Let them know that while you may not be able to offer monetary-based rewards this year, you will compensate them by increasing their capabilities and capacity, and mentoring them to success.
Stay focused on employee engagement
Changes due to layoffs may have severely impacted employee engagement and productivity levels and can be assessed by asking:
· Are your high performers keeping up on their performance compared with the change?
· Did employees’ perceptions of their intent to stay at the organization change?
· Are we still able to achieve our strategic goals and maintain a positive company culture?
The best way to understand how these changes are impacting teams is to ask them. Implement employee surveys and adjust your change management plans accordingly.
Are you looking for ways to combat The Great Resignation for your organization? Click below to download our free guide that comes with 5 strategies and examples directly from the Cooleaf platform for building a strong employee experience where employees will want to stay.
When organizations act with transparency, honesty and openness, these actions help prevent potential downturns in employee engagement.
The days, weeks, and months before and after a layoff are often an emotionally challenging time for everyone at a company, and being a compassionate leader during these times is essential. Having a plan and taking specific actions can help mitigate the loss of productivity and instill an increased level of trust for those employees who remain. Open and honest communication creates a more positive environment that encourages employees by demonstrating appreciation for their contributions, providing transparency into the business climate, and encouraging personal growth.