The Wake of Layoffs: How HR Can Manage the Message

Layoffs are an unfortunate but inevitable part of running a business. It isn’t pretty, but downsizing is often a necessary evil for optimizing a company’s efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Nonetheless, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and surviving employees are likely to be on edge. So how can HR manage the message in the wake of layoffs?


Prepare for a Backlash

There’s a great quote from Dave Denaro, vice president and site leader at Keystone Associates, regarding the reaction of surviving employees. “In general terms, a layoff isn’t personal. It’s a purely professional decision taken to protect the business. That doesn’t mean it won’t make your employees nervous; even the possibility of a restructuring can send a shiver down a worker’s spine.”

Seeing their colleagues terminated can leave surviving employees feeling nervous, uncertain and even resentful. Even though they still have their jobs, it’s hard not to question your company’s stability and their intrinsic value in your company.

This can result in turnover and your key talent may “head for higher ground” out of fear that they could be the next to go. You should be prepared for employees to walk and may want to have a temporary staffing agency lined up in the event that you need to quickly fill vacated positions.


Keep an Open Line of Communication

The best thing you can do is keep your employees in the loop. Be honest and transparent about the situation. Don’t simply leave everyone guessing what the future of your company looks like and what their role will be in it. Your employees are likely to have plenty of questions, so be willing to give an honest answer to quell their concerns.

Most importantly, let your employees know that they’re genuinely valued. Open communication like this should resuscitate morale and will hopefully prevent a mass exodus.


Show Respect and Empathy

Layoffs can create an ominous atmosphere in your workplace. Out of nowhere, your surviving employees’ livelihood comes into question, which can lead to a sense of disillusionment and distrust. As an employer, it’s crucial to demonstrate genuine respect and empathy.

Ideally, you’ll provide a forum that enables them to vent their emotions to prevent rumors or hostility from spreading. Make it clear that you understand their position and thank your staff for bearing with you during this turbulent time.


Pick Up the Slack

Layoffs are obviously disruptive to operations. All of a sudden, there’s friction and it’s harder to cover the workload. One of the best ways to reduce this friction and boost morale is to implore management to pick up the slack until the dust settles. For instance, you might ask your managers to temporarily cover extra duties to keep the wheels turning.

There’s no denying that layoffs are difficult. Even though your remaining workers still have their jobs, it can be incredibly distressing. By managing the message correctly and handling the situation with tact, you should be able to reduce conflict and get things back on track.


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