Motivating the Employees Who Remain After Layoffs

Value, Self-Esteem, and Career Development During Layoffs

Business people talking in office
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You can't open a newspaper or visit a news website without seeing notices of corporate layoffs. And layoffs create downsizing survivors, the people who remain in your company after the downsizing.

Are you a traditional manufacturing facility currently experiencing an industry sales slump? Are you a governmental agency or university unable to fill positions as people leave? For whatever reason, your organization downsized, right-sized, eliminated redundancy, experienced layoffs or cut staff.

No matter your circumstances, you all have something in common during and after downsizing - layoff survivors, those could be, should be, lucky employees who made the cut during the layoffs and downsizing.

Most organizations invest their efforts in helping the downsized employees move on. This is ethical, reasonable and positive. Plus, your employees who survived the layoff are watching  - and learning.

To truly benefit from the layoffs and downsizing you experienced, however, you need to invest even more energy in the employees who remain after downsizing and layoffs. You will aid recovery; fuel productivity; boost morale, despite the loss; and minimize the damage to workplace trust. If you practice effective change management, employees will be able to move on.

You can help managers effectively address the needs of the people who remain after layoffs. To reap the real benefits of downsizing, you must address these issues in your organization.

In this article, I'll discuss the issues that are closest to the people during and after a layoff. Then, I'll talk about the needs of the organization in downsizing.

Demonstrate That You Value the Layoff Survivors After a Downsizing

If you are a manager, it is most important to reassure the people who report to you of their value to you and the organization.

You need to talk with each of them individually to let them know why and how they are valued; tell them what you feel they contribute to your effective, continuously improving work environment.

No matter how reassuring you or your executive leadership have been, believe me, on some level, after layoffs, trust has been injured. Employees need reassurance about their security. They need reassurance about why the people who were let go in the downsizing were chosen. They need reassurance about their future.

You don't want your layoff survivors feeling as if they are the victims. Because in many ways, they may feel like victims. They may have more work to do; they may have different jobs to learn; you may ask them to step up and take on a higher level and broader responsibilities.

For some, this is exciting and career-expanding. For others, depending on their life circumstances, this may prove difficult. In a client university human resource department, one person is now working at a staff assistance counter that was staffed by five just a couple of years ago. You can bet she is feeling overworked and under-appreciated.

Look for ways to streamline current work. With fewer people, after layoffs, work with your customer to identify the work processes that add the least value to the customer experience.

Eliminate them.

More Ways to Demonstrate That You Value the Layoff Survivors in a Downsizing

Re-look at the goals and resolutions you set this year. (See The Awesome Power of Goal Setting: Ten Tips for Triumph.) Make certain your daily tasks are focused, like a laser beam, on tasks that support the accomplishment of the most important goals.

Just when you need people to step up, help out, improve work processes, and provide astonishing customer service, your layoff survivors are feeling most battered. Anything you can do to help them feel and see their value is a plus for you, as the employer, and a plus for them, as valued contributors.

Focus on Career Development and Building Self-Esteem for Layoff Survivors in a Downsizing

The people who report to you are worried for various reasons. Some layoff survivors are worried that they don’t have the knowledge and skills necessary to do their new or expanded jobs.

In one of my client companies, the warehouse manager expressed to me her fear that she did not have the knowledge she needed to manage the new automated equipment. More of a concern to me was her belief that she did not have the ability to learn the new skills.

Some people are worried about having the time and energy to step up to the larger challenge. Some are concerned that there is just so much to do.

This is an excellent time for a career development discussion with each of the people who report to you. Identify the additional training, resources and support they feel they need and provide it if possible. Some people will feel passed over during the downsizing; they must be assured of their value.

Help each individual feel as if the skills they have or are obtaining will make them highly marketable so they experience self-security and high self-esteem. In both the value discussion and the career development discussion, your goal is to help people feel confident that they have the capacity to contribute, to grow and develop, and to master the changed work environment.

Don’t Forget Trust and Emotions After Downsizing

You will need to work to restore trust. It is damaged. Whether it is the larger picture from the company or losing a valued colleague during layoffs, regardless of the relationship, trust is injured.

First, recognize that people are experiencing a loss. People will grieve even if they recognize the changes are good for them and the organization for the long term.

When people have worked together, regardless of the relationship or perceived contribution, they will experience the loss of their coworkers. You must allow them time and space to deal with anger, loss, and denial.

You will even have some people who feel guilty that they were chosen to remain after the layoffs. Recognize the gamut of emotions people, including yourself, will experience. Cut yourself and the people you support some slack as you all say good-bye to the past, and commit to the future.

See more about how employees respond to change following layoffs.