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How should we announce layoffs to the staff we didn't RIF?

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in The HR Specialist Forum

Question: "With the economic downturn, our customers aren't ordering nearly as much as they used to. We can't justify our current staffing levels, so we're going to have to lay off about 25 employees. My HR staff and I have been really focused on how to handle that delicately for the people who will lose their jobs. But it's also occurred to us that we need to be ready to answer lots of questions from the people who aren't losing their jobs. What's the best way to announce the layoffs to the "survivors"? What issues do we need to worry about" — Toni in Cincy


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John Wilcox, moderator October 30, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Barb brings up a great point:

“The boss made tools available (and training) to help us gear up for the added duties.”

So much of making a downsizing work — or any kind of restructuring, for that matter — depends on managers’ ability to lead their teams. In HR, we might have an advantage in that department, just because our training tells us to consider the OD side of the equation. But other potential change leaders might not have that perspective.

What can HR do to prepare line managers to help employees through tough transitions? It’s got to be about more than clear communication. Barb, you referred to tool. Are there specific ways you can share about how your boss got you to the other side?

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Barb. October 29, 2008 at 11:19 am

The county I work for recently had to cut 9 full-time positions to deal with budget issues of just over $600k. A few were easier because as people moved into new positions, they simply didn’t backfill their old one. A couple of managers went to half-time (getting close to retirement, anyway, and had Social Security and other retirement benefits on board), but the biggest problem I’ve seen is the resentment from the ones who’ve had to take up the slack – and it’s been 6 months since this happened. Productivity is still down, the anger level is still high, and the few who were just let go were neither cross-trained nor prepared for their departure.

My department did a down-sizing and shifting of responsibilities a few years ago. Things were carefully restructured and one position was eliminated – those of us taking on the added responsibilities have enjoyed the added challenge (most of the time, anyway) and have learned to work smarter. The boss made tools available (and training) to help us gear up for the added duties. We run smoother, accomplish more with less staff, and have a GREAT COHESIVENESS among our staff.

I still worry about the stress level of a couple of my co-workers, but as a whole we seem to be coping. It takes time to make the adjustment, but is a worthwhile goal, if you can keep the team cohesive. We used to have weekly staff meetings to discuss how things were going–we are now at the point where we only meet every 6 wks – 2 mos because we’re too busy accomplishing the goals we have set out for us, we simply report our progress weekly to the boss so he can make sure we’re on task and on target. He makes any necessary adjustments to our individual courses and we continue on–it’s very freeing to be out of the weekly staff meetings.

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Heather October 29, 2008 at 8:34 am

By the time you conduct your last RIF meeting with departing employees the whole company and even all your competitors will know what’s going on. It’s not so much how to announce it, they already know, it’s how you present your plan for going forward in your “survivor” meeting. You tell folks that they are part of the team that will keep the company strong and profitable. While it’s hard to let people go, you have to look at the big picture and that is keeping the business going and the doors open. There will be guilt on the survivors part- “why was my cube-mate let go and not me?” But, they should also realize and be told in your own way that they are still there for a reason, you thought they were valuable, contributing employees that can keep the company strong; that should help. You asked about issues to worry about, here’s one I encountered: going forward you may have to deal with extra work-load issues. After a few months when folks begin to move on from the shock they begin to resent the extra duties they had to pick up without an increase in pay. You will have to look at other ways to incentivize employees and make sure they know they are appreciated- and remember, just a word of recognition goes a long way.

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