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How to Restore Morale After Layoffs

I got a call last night from a dear friend of mine. He sounded down, and with good reason: His company had just laid off 75 percent of its workforce.

My friend was spared the chopping block -- although he now comprises 50 percent of the entire IT department -- but was pretty glum after watching his colleagues departing. Despite a long conversation in which we explored all possible silver linings, he was clearly shell-shocked and discouraged about the situation.

Which got me thinking. I've written recently about how to cut back without layoffs, and how to conduct layoffs gracefully ... but how do you restore morale and productivity after layoffs occur?

The Hayes Group International suggests a five-pronged approach to keeping survivors afloat:

  1. Plan: Figure out how the layoff will be communicated and how to assist survivors. Work out reassigned tasks and responsibilities ahead of time. Communicate why the changes were necessary and how roles will change.
  2. Communicate: Explain how the organization plans to recover, what role the employees will play, and why the changes had to happen.
  3. Listen empathetically: Most survivors will likely go through a period of grieving and guilt. A manager who's able to console his team can help improve morale. When your employees air their feelings, listen more and talk less. Postpone responses and judgments until you've heard the person out. Use positive body language: make eye contact, nod as appropriate, and show you are listening and that you care.
  4. Maintain trust: Many survivors will feel at least disappointed; some will feel betrayed. To try to maintain trust, observe three important elements -- demonstrate concern, act with integrity, and achieve results.
  5. Develop survivors' skills: With reassigned responsibilities, some employees may need additional training. Anticipate this and have plans in place; talk with your team as time passes to see if they need more support.
John Shepler offers some additional tips for managers to cope with layoffs:
  • Understand the need for a mourning period among remaining employees. Help provide time and, if necessary, counseling.
  • Assess which employees are neither apathetic or hostile to the change. These positive employees will make the best leaders during the transition.
  • Try to exude optimism; minimize criticism; acknowledge and celebrate successes.
  • Build teamwork by creating a sense of "we're all in this together and need each other to make it."
  • Foster camaraderie and encourage group discussions and input. Encourage humor, even if it's gallows humor.
  • Don't overpromise; be honest. If you swear the layoffs are over and more occur, it'll be almost impossible to regain trust.
Do you have any other suggestions for keeping your team's morale up after layoffs? Share them with the Team Taskmaster community in the comments section.