Worker productivity is easily impacted by outside factors-- from stress levels to lack of sleep to the political climate. Employees might be more productive if they exercise before they start their day, or less productive if they stay up too late binge-watching their favorite show on Netflix. While HR leaders can’t control what employees do on their own time, we can take action to keep productivity high when we know a particular distracting event is on the horizon, like a layoff. So what can employers do to maximize productivity?
As it turns out, productivity levels can correspond to the actions you take before and after a layoff, and not necessarily the day the news breaks. When business leaders act with transparency, honesty, and openness, their actions help mitigate potential productivity loss, even in the case of a large workforce reduction.
Here are 5 steps for keeping employees focused in the event of a layoff, and ideas for actions you can take before and after a layoff occurs to set your company up for future success.
#1: Address the elephant in the room
Layoffs are usually the last resort for companies, ideally occurring after a concerted effort to curb spending, cut costs in other ways, and offer employees alternatives to involuntary separation. In many cases, employers have some time to honestly communicate the financial situation to employees before a reduction in force (RIF) takes place. When employees are left out of the conversation, they have a tendency to make up their own reality.
After all, the signs that a company is having financial difficulty are too easy to sense from within the organization, and leaders who think they are fooling employees are only kidding themselves. As a result, employees spend time thinking about possible consequences instead of working toward increased profitability. All this worrying can lead to an immediate drop in productivity that may not rebound until up to a year after the actual layoff event takes place.
When you address the elephant in the room--the fact that the current financial situation is less than ideal-- it gives employees the chance to take action. If employees understand the company is struggling, they can do their part to reduce expenses, and make decisions while keeping costs top of mind. You’d be surprised how much money can be saved at the departmental level. Teams find creative ways to push spending out a few quarters, or do more with less. Employees would much rather cut spending than see their colleagues, friends and themselves released from employment.
When business leaders take the initiative to communicate openly and honestly before a layoff, employees can step up and focus on creating solutions within the company instead of focusing on and worrying about finding other employment opportunities for themselves.
#2: Train managers to coach employees
As soon as cost-cutting measures are put into place, managers should receive resiliency training to prepare them to listen to their employees and how to offer support appropriately. The object of resiliency training is to teach managers how to acknowledge the change while providing relevant information without creating panic.
During this period, managers can play a vital role in encouraging employees to stay focused on what they can control, instead of what’s outside of their control. This subtle change of attitude increases productivity as employees learn to work on creative solutions and their own professional development instead of worrying about what may or may not come to pass in the future. Managers who are transparent and honest about the current business climate will earn the trust of their employees. The right training will prepare managers to be effective coaches for employees in the event of a layoff or involuntary job transition.
#3 Encourage thoughtful innovation
Immediately following a layoff, shift your focus from the business of downsizing to effectively creating a productive workplace that encourages thoughtful innovation. While particular positions may have been eliminated, their workload hasn’t. The remaining employees and managers will need to find ways to modify processes and redistribute the workload. Involve everyone in the business of finding solutions and acknowledge the impact of the layoffs on teams, workloads, workflows, and relationships.
While organizations and managers may want to just move on from a reduction in force, many employees won’t be ready to put it behind them immediately. This is the time for a pro-active approach to employee communication. Encourage members of management to resist the temptation to isolate themselves in their offices. As part of resiliency training, managers and members of the HR department should be directed to remain visible – walk amongst teams and ask how people are doing. Show genuine interest in their mental state and look for those people who don’t seem to be as productive or positive as before. Talk to them about what they like about their job and help them to find ways to show some immediate wins.
Get team members back on track by helping them to set short term goals and let them know how their contribution will help the other members of the team. Taking steps towards accomplishment and being part of innovative solutions is good for a person’s emotional state and will do more toward improving productivity than only discussing what employees can do for the company.
#4: Be proactive
As Michelle Riklan wrote for Huffington Post, “layoff survivors are often not sure why they ‘made it’ while their peers didn’t. Sure, they have an inkling; a good performance, a not-so-expensive paycheck, and tenure come to mind. But these are nothing but speculations, and until you confirm them, layoff survivors will continue fearing for their future in the company.”
During a layoff, communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s not enough to have an “open door” policy, because some employees might not feel comfortable approaching management when a layoff has just occurred. Just because people are silent, doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about the impact of the layoffs or worrying about their own future. In the absence of communication, people will make up their own reality – and that reality is rarely positive. Every step of the way-- before, during, and after a layoff-- communication is key. Failing to communicate in a timely fashion, or avoiding sharing pertinent details with employees will derail attempts at a return to normalcy and productivity.
Management and HR must have a plan for reaching out to employees with one on one meetings designed to reiterate the messaging of the layoff. During these meetings, managers need to address why the layoffs occurred, acknowledge how hard the situation is on surviving employees, and assure employees that there are no more layoffs happening at this time. While these conversations should be reassuring, be careful not to make promises or predictions that may not come to pass. Be honest, be kind, but don’t sugar coat the message. Developing trust is the number one goal at this time.
During this time, it’s important that managers and members of the HR department remind employees of their value. People want to know their value, and are inspired and motivated when it’s clear that the work they’re doing is meaningful. HR can also ensure they have resources in place for employee’s who find the changes particularly challenging. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great solution especially when communicated in a way that helps people understand the confidential nature of the resource. It’s also important to help employee’s understand what an EAP can do for them from general counseling, assistance with work/life issues, financial planning conversation and other resources.
#5: Benchmark your progress 3 months out
Immediately following a reduction in force or a restructuring event, organizations often focus on minimizing the damage to culture and productivity. Although many companies are still experiencing the effects of a reduction in force for more than six months, most don’t have long-term programs in place to address the influence of the layoffs on productivity and employee satisfaction. Before the layoffs occur, plan to revisit employee concerns at the 3 month mark. During this time, revisit resiliency training for managers and employees and schedule one-on-one meetings between managers and their team members to check the temperature of employee sentiment and assess who need additional support.
It may be tempting for some organizations to move forward with costly planned events, large campaigns or costly expenditures. This is not the time for company-wide parties or large, ostentatious shows. Many impacted employees may still be looking for work and the sting of the increased workload is still being felt by the survivors.
The three-month mark might be a good time to schedule an all-hands meeting to discuss the state of the company and plans for improved financial success. A town-hall style meeting is a good forum to answer questions from employees and to provide transparency into company business plans where appropriate.
Follow-up on whole-company meetings with department meetings to discuss how the contributions of individual departments tie into corporate goals and schedule individual meetings with team members to discuss how their efforts tie into the success of the team.
The days, weeks, and months before and after a layoff are often an emotionally challenging time for everyone at a company. Having a plan and taking specific actions can help mitigate the loss of productivity and instill an increased level of trust for those employees who remain. Open and honest communication helps to create a more positive environment that encourages employees by demonstrating appreciation for their contributions, providing transparency into the business climate, and encouraging personal growth.
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