I write often about the importance of employee engagement here on my site and on LinkedIn.
The leaders I work with have to make difficult decisions when it comes to layoffs. It's a common enough occurrence that the systems of severance, benefits, career support, and other areas are familiar and can be managed well.
Deciding to lay off employees typically alleviates a burden, whether financial or otherwise, that may have been weighing heavily on the minds of leadership. In a sense, the completion of this step brings a sense of relief similar to feeling as though "the toughest part is over."
However, the work is just beginning as business continues, and there's a group that's less often considered, the remaining employees - the layoff survivors.
The benefits of employee engagement are well-researched.
Despite all of this, knowledge of benefits is not enough to create a sustainable impact in an
organization. Leaders must be intentional about cultivating
organizational culture when the seas are calm and when waters are rough, as can be the case following layoffs.
It feels like layoffs always seem to occur on Fridays, and the horror stories position these as surprise, mass terminations delivered via video conference.
I've been witness to layoffs, anticipated and unanticipated, and in the "just get back to work" and "pretend like nothing happened" environments, there were greater, negative impacts to sales and productivity than there were in the organizations that led with empathy.
While it's advised that these sorts of unfeeling, group announcements be avoided, and replaced with more personal, attentive, and human communication, there is more that can be done no matter the form of delivery.
✔️ Understand the shock that is likely to be felt among the remaining employees.
✔️ Clear schedules.
✔️ Encourage logging off to process.
✔️ Make your leadership available to workers, in-group or individually, for follow-up questions, venting, presentation of concerns, and clarifications on any information that was shared with the workforce.
The sooner you provide time, space, and communication, the sooner employees will be able to process the grief, information, and their feelings of concern, allowing the return of attention to the work that will be required to move forward.
Seeing the exit of coworkers can result in feelings of job insecurity among layoff survivors. In some cases, rather than to risk the same end, employees may feel more control in exiting of their own accord.
Related to the earlier mention of empathetic leadership, there's research to support the impact of this quality on employee retention.
Hodder (2021) details the findings of a 2019 Businesssolver study in that:
✔️ Develop trainings that focus on empathetic leadership and other leadership models.
✔️ Have these led internally or by an external consultant who specializes in the area.
✔️ Make sure managers and executives throughout your organization are in attendance.
✔️ Schedule these trainings consistently and with progressively-challenging content
✔️ Be patient as the measures of positive impact from implementing training will increase over time.
Employees tend to mirror that which they experience. This is true in actions, behaviors, communication, and culture. In light of this, it's important to reflect upon the way your organization communicates.
If the communication from leadership is infrequent, confusing, and doesn't align with the actions that employees witness, a sense of mistrust will develop, and they'll learn to communicate in a similar fashion. This mistrust and the resulting actions are compounded when employees have tried to ask questions or offer feedback, and they feel as though their concerns have gone unheard or are unappreciated.
The instance of layoffs having occurred provides an opportunity to remedy this experience, though you don't have to wait for a crisis in order to begin making a difference for your employees.
✔️ Ask your employees, in survey, where they want to receive company information.
✔️ Take their responses and attend to as many as possible, not just the most popular answer.
✔️ Improve 2-way communication by accepting feedback, reviewing it consistently, and reporting on how it's being applied.
✔️ Invite employees to participate in developing vision and strategy around the feedback that's been provided.
Employers that communicate well will have employees who communicate well. Receptiveness to feedback will set the foundation for employees wanting to be open, honest, and transparent. Organizational cultures that have fostered this environment will experience fewer surprises when it comes to employee resignation.
The importance of employee engagement impacts internal operations as well as the experience for your customers. This is true in service-based companies and in those whose focus is on production or manufacturing.
When layoffs have occurred, and you have fewer "players on the field," usual consequences are that:
Similar to what's mentioned above, the quality of communication is key to addressing this area. This is especially true as human- and operational-overwhelm are not always instantly-fixed.
✔️ Be open in communication with stakeholders (employees, vendors, suppliers, and clients).
✔️ Don't hide or minimize the issues that are occurring.
✔️ Develop and implement cross-functional trainings that can open doors to promotion for current employees.
✔️ Seek input from employees on their ideas for innovation and efficiency.
✔️ Offer continuing education assistance, especially in those areas where advancing employee knowledge can become a competitive advantage for your organization over time.
While it's good to have an awareness of the competition, an imbalance of focus on items outside of your control can negatively influence the actions you're able to take on the things you can control. Focusing your attention internally is likely to have greater and more immediate impact.
The more time you spend watching, the less time you spend doing.
Your competitors are going to keep moving at the pace they're able to, whether your focus is on them or on your workforce. Be proactive in your internal attentions and your competition might then be faced with having to react.
Creating changes that your current employees embrace and that become part of your culture can add to the marketing messaging that you use to attract new employees. They're interviewing you as much as you're interviewing them, so you'll want to have in place the systems, engagement, and culture that you're proud of.
✔️ Form a diverse, guiding coalition of employees to provide input, develop vision, and create strategy for change projects.
✔️ Lean on their input in developing the communication of change to the masses.
✔️ Foster their embrace of the project so their ownership of the outcome is visible.
✔️ As obstacles come to light, be diligent in removing them.
✔️ Document what's working, and what's not, so that organizational knowledge is enhanced.
✔️ Take these learnings and apply them to new hire onboarding curriculum.
If you've experienced recent layoffs, or the costs of employee turnover are preventing you from growing in other areas, and you'd like to learn more about the importance of employee engagement, and how to attract and retain dedicated workers for your company, let's talk. I help companies improve engagement, reduce turnover costs, and increase revenues.
Each week, I open a few spots to speak with sales and HR leaders to help them with the systems and training they need to reach their business goals.
Here's what to do next: ⤵️
I'm looking forward to meeting you soon!
David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
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Hodder, A. (2021). Making the Case for Empathetic Leadership. Plans & Trusts, 39(4), 24-29.
Jafri, H. (2013). HRM Practices as Predictors of Employee Engagement: An Empirical Investigation. Anvesha, 6(4), 1-9.
Kumar, V., & Pansari, A. (2015). Measuring the Benefits of Employee Engagement. MIT Sloan Management Review, 56(4).
Sievert, H., & Scholz, C. (2017). Engaging Employees in (at Least Partly) Disengaged Companies. Results of an Interview Survey Within About 500 German Corporations on the Growing Importance of Digital Engagement via Internal Social Media. Public Relations Review, 43(5), 894-903. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.06.001
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