Motivating Employees Who Remain After Layoffs

Cubicle with box of personal belongings during layoff
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Corporate layoffs have become a mainstay of life in America. What gets less attention on the evening news is that layoffs create downsizing survivors or those who remain in your company after the downsizing.

Are you a traditional manufacturing facility currently experiencing an industry sales slump? Perhaps you're a governmental agency or university unable to fill positions as people leave. Downsizing takes many forms. Maybe your organization downsized, right-sized, eliminated redundancy, experienced layoffs, or cut staff.

Whatever the terminology or circumstances, if your organization downsized, you're left with layoff survivors, those employees considered lucky because they made the cut. While downsizing has a positive effect on the business's bottom line, to truly benefit from the layoffs, you need to invest energy in the employees who survived. If you do, you will aid recovery, fuel productivity, and boost morale. You will also minimize any damage to workplace trust, and, if you practice effective change management, you'll ultimately see your remaining employees flourish and grow.

Demonstrate That You Value the Survivors 

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 person individually to let them know why and how they are valued, stressing their contribution to the overall functioning of the operation.

It's common after layoffs that trust has been injured. Employees need to be reassured about their security and their future. They also need to be told why the people who were let go were chosen.

You don't want your survivors feeling that they are the victims. It is also a common occurrence because the survivors will likely have more work to do, and different jobs to learn.

For some, this course of action will be exciting and career-expanding. For others, this may prove difficult. For instance, a human resource department once staffed by five people may now be staffed by just one person. That person will likely feel overworked and under-appreciated. One way to prevent overburdening a survivor is to work with your customer base to identify the work processes that add the least value to the customer experience, and then eliminate them.

Focus on Career Development and Building Self-Esteem

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 take on new or expanded jobs. Some people are worried about having the time and energy required to step up to the larger challenge. 

It creates an opportunity for a career development discussion with each of the people who report to you. Start by identifying the additional training, resources, and support each employee feels they need and then make sure you provide it. 

Explain to each employee that the new skills they are obtaining will make them more marketable. It, in turn, will create a heightened sense of job security and self-esteem. Remember, your goal is to help people feel confident that they can contribute, grow, and master the changing work environment.

Establish Trust and Acknowledge Emotions 

You will need to work to restore any trust that has been damaged, such as an employee losing a valued colleague that they considered valuable. Recognize that people are experiencing a loss. People will grieve even if they see 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 inevitably experience the loss of a coworker. You must give those that remain on the job the time and space they need to deal with feelings of anger and loss. You will even have some people who feel guilty that they were chosen to remain after the layoffs. Notice the gamut of emotions that people experience, including yourself, and accept them as a normal part of the change.