With more economic uncertainty looming, additional interruptions to organizations seem inevitable, which translates into reductions in force (RIFs).
When this moment comes, it’s important to be highly visible and engaged with employee communication, and re-recruit remaining employees and reaffirm the organization’s commitment to current staff.
When managers handle the process well, managers can also reinforce their commitment to remaining staff and communicate the mission so that the organization continues to thrive.
Re-Engaging the Workforce
George Penn, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice, explains organizations have learned a lot the past few years when it comes to reductions in force.
"Many organizations recognize that layoffs destroy morale, productivity and even increase risk of attrition in critical talent pools," he says. "Layoffs also seriously harm a brand in the labor and consumer market – it should always be an action of last resort."
Organizations enacting an RIF should take specific actions to re-engage their remaining workforce, a process that includes open and honest communication.
"Business leaders should educate employees on the basic financial mechanics of the organization and how the state of the economy and industry is impacting the organization, including the need to implement a RIF," Penn says.
Jason Walker, Thrive HR's HR lead, people partner and transformation consulting, says typically, folks feel poorly because they have lost friends, have had to worry about their positions and are concerned about the long term stability of the company.
"It is important to talk through these things. Let your employees know if you have a good quarter, if there are big sales that you can’t announce that have closed," he advises. "Talk about why the company is a good place to work. Talk about the positives of the company. Be real and compassionate about what is happening."
He recommends managers also put in place retention programs and awards to keep employees in key roles.
"They should develop contingency plans when employees leave the organization," Walker says. "It will happen, and managers need to prepare for employee exits."
Amitabh Sinha, co-founder and CEO of Workspot, says providing a forum for people to ask questions is a good channel for explaining the reasons behind the move, so everyone is on the same page.
"It also helps employees feel supported and is an opportunity to provide reassurance and work through 'survivor’s guilt', which can make it hard for people to move forward," he explains.
Re-Enforcing the Mission
Organizations should also take the time to reintroduce and reinforce the mission, vision and values of the organization and how those will help the organization navigate through difficult times.
"They should also encourage and effectively manage two-way communication channels," Penn says. "This means sourcing and rapidly responding to input from all levels of the organization, especially as it relates to ideas that impact operations and revenue generation."
He also advises organizations to help employees identify the degree to which employee networks were disrupted – or destroyed – by the layoffs.
"Encourage managers to meaningfully connect employees to new and different parts of the organization based on employee strengths and goals," he says. "Finally, they should equip employees to use formal and informal channels to tap into new networks both inside and outside of the organization."
Thrive HR lead Rey Ramirez says it's important that company leaders communicate about the organization's situation and do their homework to talk to employees about why they should stay.
"Know the sales numbers and the revenue numbers, be able to talk about new products, deals won, positive press," he says. "Give the remaining employees a lot of attention and create ways for them to develop professionally. Have fun as a team, create a positive environment."
He notes it's important to focus on development opportunities, learning opportunities and how employees can make a bigger impact on a smaller company.
"Focus on the growth opportunity, equity availability to employees and career expansion if available," Ramirez says.
Penn says HR leaders should help managers provide context for goal setting, which means providing teams with information about adjustments to the corporate strategy and how it relates to their individual goals.
"Managers should also make goal setting more transparent and collaborative by encouraging employees to collaborate and hold each other accountable for team goals," he says.
In addition, managers need to enable agile and more frequent goal setting adjustments.
"As business plans change, goal setting must keep up," he notes. "Where possible, organizations should proactively communicate triggers for a review of goals."
HR, Managers Take the Lead
Walker recommends managers check in on employees more frequently and ask them if they need anything.
"Ask employees if they need time off to mentally adjust to the new normal and ask for their willingness to sign up for the new organization and work environment," he says. "Employees also need to clearly understand how the organization will operate going forward."
While the CEO and CHRO will communicate the why at a high level, Ramirez adds that "quite frankly" it is up to individual managers to create an approach that works for your teams, and your employees.
"That will only happen effectively from the manager," he says. "The relationship between employees to their manager is now more important than ever. Engagement and relationships are key to retention of talent."
Sinha says the significant shift to remote and hybrid work styles has underscored the importance of HR leaders having a seat at the executive table.
"Just as IT leaders have risen over the past decade to be essential drivers of business strategy, HR leaders are on the front lines helping navigate the remote work models that have changed company dynamics," he explains.
After a layoff, senior-level leadership across lines of business must work together with the C-Suite and HR to produce a strategy for connecting and motivating people both within and outside the office environment.
"It is a critically important commitment for an ongoing engagement that fosters productivity and loyalty," he says.