Maintain Leadership, Help Workers Survive Layoffs

March 3, 2009
As massive layoffs continue to make national headlines, people believe it’s not a matter of if, but when, their organization will be next.

According to a recent online poll conducted by VitalSmarts, a Utah-based corporate training company, three out of four people believe their organization is likely to issues layoffs in the next 12 months. And incidentally, one in three people believe their job is at risk today.

No one fears layoffs more than the managers who have to issue them. Feeling the pressure of doing such a dirty job, managers become so embroiled in the crisis that they surrender their leadership focus. The result is shattered trust and battered morale among leftover employees.

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, Crucial Conversations, says that in a downturn, the fundamental job of leaders is to ensure surviving employees focus on building the future. Grenny provides these tips for ensuring leaders lead through layoffs to restore trust, productivity and morale:

  1. The way you treat those leaving determines the trust you have with those staying. The audience of your downsizing performance is not just the downsized – but the survivors. They watch and draw conclusions about how you will treat them in tough times. So, be honest, proactive, generous and caring. If you come across any less, you’ll pay for it for years to come.
  2. If you can’t offer job security, offer job predictability. Be completely transparent about the timing of future reductions, where they will be targeted and how much notice you will give employees. By helping people feel more in control you reduce the psychological costs of fearing the unknown while increasing trust.
  3. Build confidence in the future as much as you share bad news about the present. Leaders become so defensive about announcing bad news that they hide from employees. Rather, leaders need to sell their plan to secure the future even more than they talk about the tough decisions of today. If they don’t, employees lose confidence and suffer “survivor’s syndrome” as they simply wait for the next shoe to drop.
About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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