Five Tips for Managing After Lay-Offs

Last Updated Nov 12, 2008 8:58 AM EST

  • Managing After Lay-OffsThe Find: Lay-offs are at their highest rate since the economic slump that followed 9/11 and the popping of the tech bubble, so one company is looking back at that time for five lessons on how to manage survivors after heavy job cuts.
  • The Source: A before and after study of the last economic downturn in 2001 recently conducted by pollsters Sirota Survey Intelligence in light of the current crisis.
The Takeaway: Back in 2000 and then again in 2002, more than 500,000 employees reported on their attitudes towards work. By examining the results of those surveys, Sirota "learned a great deal about the reactions of employees who survive cutbacks," according to the firm's president Douglas Klein. The first order of business was to determine how lay-offs affected those that remained after the downsizing. The analysis provided no surprises: survivors suffered greater insecurity, higher stress, less teamwork, heavier workloads, and a general feeling of being "less valued."

What's more useful than the less than startling insight that employees feel bad after lay-offs are the lessons for managers based on the analysis.

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate â€" "Most employees want to know what will be happening to them. Secrecy or lack of transparency will just add to their sense of powerlessness. Do not delay in confirming whether there will be job cuts," says Klein.
  2. Allow for an emotional response â€" "Anger, concern, insecurity, and survivor guilt are all perfectly natural emotions for employees to feel. It is crucial for managers to spend time assuring employees that it is OK to feel this way. Otherwise, employees may release these feelings in non-productive ways or situations."
  3. Proactively address the negative effects of less staff for the same work â€" Increased workloads for employees who survive layoffs are inevitable, and often have the added effect of negatively impacting teamwork. Managers can choose to involve their employees in the search for solutions, thus addressing both teamwork and efficiency simultaneously.
  4. Demonstrate continuing long-term interest in the careers of the survivors â€" "Following layoffs is a good time to introduce 'stretch assignments' â€" those that will expand the skills of survivors and demonstrate your confidence in them."
  5. Empirically determine how things are going â€" don't just guess. Periodic, systematic, employee attitude assessments enable management to ascertain the impact of their actions on the day-to-day operations of the company. Employee attitude surveys also demonstrate to workers that they are still an important asset.
The Question: Any further tips for keeping morale (and productivity) up after lay-offs?

(Image of absent colleagues by snofia, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.