Leaders can help layoff survivors

When forced to layoff staff, workplace team leaders are faced with many significant challenges, not the least of which is raising morale and worker engagement during unprecedented bad times. Workplace layoff survivors are commonly angry, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and highly stressed. Those left behind are being asked to do more with less and are distracted by the flood of bad news and job security fears. Perks are going by the wayside, and the pressure to produce has never been higher.

Understandably, employee engagement and morale are difficult to cultivate in this environment. Research confirms that following layoffs, survivors report higher levels of distrust and lower levels of motivation and engagement. The result? Absenteeism goes up and productivity goes down. Few businesses can afford this now.

How do you keep survivors motivated and engaged?

  • Console your team and foster healing. Allow them time and support to talk about their emotions and frustrations. When they do, cast aside any judgments you may have and listen simply to “understand” them. Demonstrate empathy for those in pain during these difficult times. Leaders who try to push past this without allowing time and healing with their people are making a mistake.
  • Work to rebuild trust. Teams simply can’t operate optimally without trust. Trust is enhanced when leaders demonstrate concern and act with integrity. Trust is also fostered by being transparent and talking straight about reality. Be courageous in front of your team by asking for help, or admit, “I was wrong,” if applicable. There is expert help available to help you and your team get through this difficult time.
  • Reassign roles and responsibilities to remaining workers carefully. In my coaching experience, most leaders don’t pay enough attention upfront to clarifying expectations and role changes. Focus on quantifying and clarifying things such as how much time should be required and what “quality” and “success” look like. There may be noncritical tasks or assignments that will need to be let go. Helping your team prioritize the new workload is important. Each team member should understand how the work he or she does contributes to company or team objectives.
  • Be realistic and support with resources. Some employees will require additional training, coaching and direction to be successful.
  • Provide leadership. Check in with team members to see if they need more support or clarification about who is doing what, when. Make believers of your team that “we’re all in this together.” Communicate that success or failure will be determined by how the team responds under pressure. Reinforce that all hands on deck are required.
  • Acknowledge small wins. Celebrate any success to keep morale up. One Gallup survey reported that 60 percent of American workers report getting no praise or recognition in their workplaces. This isn’t OK. Recognition doesn’t have to be huge bonuses. Small rewards can work — relief from repetitive tasks, pizza parties, an extra day off, etc. The idea here is to foster a team or workplace culture of appreciation, not fear. Leaders who demonstrate they care and appreciate their workers’ efforts will be rewarded with performance.
  • Facilitate teamwork and collaboration. It’s up to the leader to provide an environment that supports and encourages input from everyone for healthy dialogue and debate. Done well, this process will surface tough problems and better solutions.

Again, there is help out there for this. Expert facilitators can help managers and teams with practical problem-solving techniques and approaches that foster collaboration and creativity.

  • Consider doing it differently. It may be useful for your team to re-examine how work is being done and whether it should be done in this environment. This is a good time to look at alternative ways of work system design and prioritization.
  • Use humor, even to poke fun at what’s lousy. One leader recently joked to his senior management team, “The good news is that our building is up to the latest ADA standards and has complete wheelchair access. I figure it will be handy when we’re still working here in our 90s.”

Perspective is in the mind of the beholder and attitude is often the key. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself, and those alongside you, that thirst is quenched from the half of the cup that is full. Be thankful for simple blessings, including jobs and wheelchair ramps.