Despite recent upticks in the economy, news about company layoffs continues to be sobering. Bank of America plans to cut 16,000 jobs by the end of 2012. Motorola Mobility recently laid off 20 percent of its workforce and closed a third of its 94 offices worldwide. Hewlett-Packard announced plans to eliminate 29,000 jobs by late 2014.
As devastating as layoffs are to the people who lose their jobs, “layoff survivors” and the businesses for which they still work face formidable challenges as well. While corporations are better-positioned (and have more resources to fall back on) following a layoff, for small businesses, the loss of veteran employees can add to post-layoff turmoil. So it’s vitally important that small business owners take proactive steps to keep things running as smoothly as possible. How a business manages its remaining employees after a layoff can mean the difference between a short-term setback and long-term struggles.
Here are six tips for guiding your employees through a layoff and keeping them focused on what lies ahead.
1. Let people vent their emotions. The employees who stay with you after a layoff can experience a range of difficult and contradictory emotions. There’s sadness for co-workers they may never see again. There’s relief that, for the time being, they’ve been spared. And there’s “survivor guilt,” not unlike what surviving victims of any tragedy typically feel. Business owners and managers must expect an emotional response and demonstrate empathy for all those affected by the situation.
2. Communicate. Nothing is more critical post-layoff than keeping lines of communication open. Hiding behind closed doors only contributes to an ongoing crisis atmosphere and feeds the unproductive rumor mill. At every appropriate juncture, do your best to communicate what you can about what your staff cares most about.
3. Be transparent. Where do things stand now? Share information about the company’s financial health, particularly if more layoffs are possible. The message should be: I deeply regret the need to take action, but maintaining the status quo would have led to even more drastic measures.
4. Be honest. What does the future look like? If you don’t know precisely what the future holds, say so. The more information employees receive about the company’s short-term prospects, the better they’ll be at absorbing future changes and moving on. If strategic goals are changing as a result of the layoff, let employees know how they can help achieve those goals. Whatever the situation, your people should know what’s expected of them in the weeks and months ahead.
5. Look to boost morale. In virtually all layoff situations, morale will suffer and productivity will decrease. The goal is to minimize the effects and reduce the amount of time needed for things to return to “normal.” Look for ways to maintain familiar routines, such as adhering to established meeting schedules. Refrain from further disorienting employees with radical changes in their daily work lives.
6. Seek employee input. The people left standing in the wake of a layoff can rise to the challenge, if conditions are right. Knowing that someone will listen to their ideas and possible solutions will ease some of their insecurities and keep them committed to taking necessary actions. Another option: A week or two after the layoffs, conduct an anonymous employee survey to gauge attitudes and address any new concerns. Being asked to contribute via words and deeds intensifies employees’ commitment to keeping the business alive.
As days and weeks pass, take every opportunity to instill new hope and optimism among your staff. Share any positive developments (new clients, rising trends in sales) and plans for future initiatives (new product launches, additional company funding). In this respect, there’s no difference between the boss and the front-line staff. People are always hungry for good news.