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How to help employees deal with layoffs

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Question:  “Our CEO recently announced that the company is in dire straits, and major layoffs are coming. Top management has not communicated with the staff since the announcement. Morale is really low, employees are starting to accept their fate and very little is getting done. As a senior manager, what can I do to help my employees deal with this and prepare for the future?” — Concerned Executive

Marie's Answer:  After a layoff announcement, employees are like airplane passengers who have hit severe turbulence. To understand what’s happening, they need information from the pilot. Otherwise, they may become completely immobilized by anxiety. As a manager, here are some steps you can take:

•    When the business is in turmoil, employees look for leadership. Gutless executives disappear during difficult times, but true leaders know that adversity calls for more communication, not less. 

•    Regular meetings will help people feel informed, even when there’s little to report. Make yourself available for casual conversation by keeping your door open and taking walks through the work area.

•    When talking with worried employees, the best approach is empathy and honesty. Empathize with their concerns and share accurate information, but don’t offer false hope. 

•    Offer to review résumés, write reference letters and supply networking contacts to those losing their jobs. Help them find information on Job Search Skills. Encourage top management to provide outplacement services. 

Finally, remember that leadership and communication still will be important after the layoff. Remaining employees often experience “survivor syndrome” as they adjust to the sudden departure of co-workers and the inevitable increase in their own workloads.

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