If you are a leader faced with having to furlough or layoff employees during this COVID-19 pandemic, you’re feeling the pressure. You’re having to make tough decisions about your workforce. Through this process, you need to consider not only how to have the conversations with those affected employees, but also the team that remains. In this environment where most teams are working virtually, rumors and anxiety can escalate across your entire workforce. The parting will be painful and emotional.
I personally experienced my own corporate employers’ restructurings. Early in my career, peers were laid off from a leading healthcare company. I survived that layoff, but remember how painful that day was for those who left and those who stayed. Also, a few years ago during a thirteen-year career moving up the corporate ladder for a Fortune 50 company, my name was called in a layoff, after also having to layoff members of my team. This definitely was an emotional transition in my life. I’ve seen the same story play out for others time and time again. This time, on a grander scale.
In each of these situations, I observed how tough the transition has been for those being laid off, and for those staying with the company. But, we often don’t think about how tough the transition must be for the leaders who have to put the pieces back together with the remaining team. Most leaders have never been in a situation like this before, and don’t know how to handle it.
In executing a reduction in force, leaders are faced with two primary challenges – managing the transition of employees leaving and inspiring the team that remains.
How can you successfully navigate through both situations?
The strategies that follow are good guidelines whether during a crisis or during restructuring that organizations periodically experience.
Leading Employees Transitioning Out
How do you help employees transition out, when their shortened careers may not be by choice?
1. Be as transparent as you can – Help all employees on your team understand why the company needed to take this action, within the boundaries of what you can legally discuss. For those furloughed, be honest about the possibilities of not being brought back. Communication will help them better deal with the situation.
2. Appreciate them – Let your departing employees know that their service to the company is sincerely appreciated. Share how their contributions have been valued. Self-worth and self-confidence are usually at low points during these times. Even though you can’t reverse the action, it matters to know that their years of commitment and hard work were not unnoticed or unappreciated.
3. Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – People just want their concerns to be heard. Know that this is a very emotional situation that will take time to work through. Be empathetic by just acknowledging their feelings.
4. Share resources for next steps – Provide clear instructions on next steps for securing unemployment and ongoing benefits, and for using outplacement services. Share information on other industries / companies that are hiring, community support services, and other pertinent resources.
5. Give the space and bandwidth needed to transition out, where the situation permits – Don’t try to just suck the life out of emloyees before they leave. Determine how work will be reassigned as soon as you can and communicate it to the team. Give affected employees the bandwidth to close out projects and train other employees on the responsibilities.
Leading the Remaining Team
How do you handle the aftermath and coming days with the remaining employees?
1. What assurances can you give – Immediately meet with the team to acknowledge that things will be different, and they have your commitment that you will make the transition as smooth as possible. Assure them that ‘we’re all in this together’.
2. Be as transparent as you can – Communicate allowable information on what will happen next as soon as you can. Employees are wondering what’s ahead because the grapevine is ripe with rumors. Don’t sugarcoat the news. If the cuts are over, let them know that in order to ease other fears. However, don’t give false hope. Be honest if more restructuring is on the table and all the dust hasn’t settled yet. Trust can grow or be broken at times like these.
3. Appreciate them – Let them know how much you value their hard work and pitching in to make the transition work.
4. Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – Acknowledge that your employees feel unsettled and miss their coworkers. Empathize with their emotions and concerns. Share that you have the confidence in them to work together to make the transition as smooth as possible.
5. Make yourself available for employees to come to you with concerns – This will take time to work through. Let employees know your door is open to listen; however, don’t passively allow whining to take hold.
6. Provide direction – Your team is looking to you for guidance and direction on how to move forward. What does the new structure mean to the company and to your team? How do things change or stay the same? Invite input on how the team can work most effectively in the new environment. Create opportunities to strengthen relationships among the team.
You, leader, play a huge role in how restructuring transitions turn out.
If you are not proactive in leading your team through the process, you’ll have tougher consequences to deal with.
Share this with other leaders who are attempting to navigate their way through this crisis.
Catch the full Leading with Resilience: Crisis Survival Guide series and other resilience resources. I’ll be posting updates with resources over the next few weeks.
Now is the time to equip your team to effectively lead through this crisis. I’m here to help. Email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org..