How To Lead A Team Through Layoffs

how a resource manager can lead a team through layoffs

We all know that getting laid off can leave a negative mental impact on the employee leaving. When mass layoffs happen, the morale of the remaining employees can start to deteriorate too. It can quickly turn a workspace into a hive of stress, negativity, and tension. A strong leader needs to know how to effectively lead a team through difficult times.

Managing a workspace that is going through downsizing, a shift, or simply having to lay off jobs, is a very tricky position to be in. The best managers and leaders still need guidance to make sure morale is boosted, employees are still engaged, and to help employees navigate their new workplace.

What is Layoff Survivor Sickness (LOSS)?

Layoff Survivor Sickness (LOSS) is the set of attitudes, feelings, and perceptions of those who survive not being laid off. It shows itself through the coping behaviours used to manage the stress associated with surviving being ‘cut’.

The root cause of layoff survivor sickness is a serious shift in the psychological relationship between the individual and their organisation:

“Symptoms of layoff survivor sickness are found in pockets in most (downsizing) organisations and is breaking out in epidemic proportions in many.”

Noer (1993) wrote this insightful work after the 1991 recession. His words still ring true today.

The following is an example list of some of the positive and negative attitudes, perceptions, and feelings held and felt by ‘survivors’.

how to lead a team through layoffs

Myths around layoffs

There are many myths surrounding layoffs, on both an employee and managerial level. If you’re going through large changes in your organisation, take the time to clear the air with your team, understand what fears they might be experiencing, and address and correct any myths that might be impacting their perceptions.

Myth 1. Companies that are laying off workers are not hiring new ones.

Layoffs don’t always mean doom and gloom – and hopefully, employees know that. Sometimes it can mean a positive company pivot, which might see a shift in the roles and employees needed to succeed in the new strategy.

Myth 2. Downsizing employees boosts profits and productivity.

Let employees know that you understand that productivity may not be at an all-time high, and work through with them how you can help boost it back up.

Myth 3. Since companies are just “cutting fat” by downsizing employees, there are no adverse effects on those who remain.

Managers and supervisors should let their team know that they understand and are empathetic towards the effects this layoff has had on them.

Myth 4. Training survivors during and following layoffs is not necessary.

If employees within the workforce are now taking on new roles or new duties due to the layoff, see what they need from you. They may need new training and guidance as they navigate their new workload.

Lay out the truth to employees and your team, and work on building a strong and honest relationship. A good workplace environment, especially one after layoffs, is one built on open communication and trust.

How to keep employees engaged

The benefits of employee engagement have been well documented and praised over recent years. However, LOSS can have a shattering impact on employees’ levels of engagement within their organisation. Highly engaged employees can become highly disengaged survivors as ‘pink slips’ are handed out and when they perceive unfairness in who is ‘cut’.

It requires managers and supervisors to take action and offer more than just words of encouragement and reassurance to lead a team through this and keep employees engaged.

Keep the lines of communication open.

This doesn’t mean just letting them know they’re ‘safe’ once in a while – this is actively listening to concerns and issues raised within your team. Let your team know as soon as you can about any changes. A lot of the stress and anxiety around layoffs stems from not knowing what’s around the corner.

Foster company culture

When layoffs happen, the company culture can take a big hit. Take the time to understand how you can build a new, better-fitting culture for the workplace you now have. Existing employees may have enjoyed the old culture and feel like they don’t fit the new one – now is the time to remind them that they do.

Mental health and well-being focus

A pandemic, a recession, mandatory isolation – it’s been a lot these past few years for everyone. Mental health should be a primary focus as employees handle the big changes and anxieties the best they can right now. Offering mental health days, access to support, and group well-being classes could all help your employees’ well-being.

Whilst no one enjoys layoffs, it’s the way we handle them as leaders and managers that will leave a mark on remaining employees. Lead a team through a stressful and uncertain time, and show them the way to a new, positive, workplace.

There are strategies to minimise LOSS downsides. The College for Adult Learning provides a suite of Human Resource Management and Leadership courses that can help managers and supervisors enhance their people management skills and how they manage or prevent the downsides of LOSS.

Our Diploma of Human Resource Management (BSB50320) and Advanced Diploma of Human Resource Management (BSB60320) can offer you the skills and expertise to manage these morale-based issues within the workforce and help you build your career in the ever-growing HR industry. Enquire today to get started.