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Employee Engagement in the Face of Layoffs

Jun 22, 2019

Written by: Siddharth Reddy
(View Author Bio)

Employee engagement is usually not the foremost priority for organisations during layoffs. To avoid an adverse impact, make it a priority and manage employee sentiment, opinion, and morale and help navigate the organization through these crucial times.

Employee Engagement in the Face of Layoffs

The industry has seen a spate of layoffs recently due to digitalisation, automation, mergers and acquisitions and/or poor company results. Layoffs aren’t like ripping off a Band-Aid, where it’s “business-as-usual” once done, albeit with a sudden pain that passes off quickly. The actual effects are far-reaching. Many businesses think that pro-active PR efforts can help them emerge unscathed from layoffs, when actually what they need is to focus on the people involved in the equation - affected  and continuing employees - to mitigate damage. Let’s take a look at the impact of layoffs and targeted engagement strategies to tackle its ill-effects.

How to Support Laid-Off Employees 

Laid-off employees are the most affected and how organisations facilitate the exit plays a crucial role in how they respond. If you recall the Bochum Nokia incident, where within a week of layoff news being conveyed to employees, thousands of protestors gathered and angrily crushed the brand’s phones while unions advocated boycotting Nokia’s products. The response delivered a big blow to its market share in Germany, leading to a sales loss of nearly €700 million during 2008-2011. Fast-forward to 2011, the telecom giant faced another retrenching requirement. Only this time, it was better-prepared and deployed a targeted exit plan so employees felt that the exit process was just and unbiased and was better received. So how do you manage laid-off employees fair and square?

  • Clear the air: Large organisations use corporate parlance such as limited restructuring, reclassification and right-sizing to disguise layoffs and cushion the blow. Spokespersons offer reassuring statements to the general public, so brand image and investor sentiment isn’t hurt, while laid-off employees are asked to leave with little explanation or consideration. What follows is a trail of scorned ex-employees. To avoid this, handle the situation with dignity, authenticity and transparency. Don’t mince your words or trivialise it. Treat affected employees with respect, acknowledge their feelings, let them know it’s not personal and provide them answers.

  • Offer equitable exit packages: Ease the immediate financial stress that laid-off employees face. Fair exit severance packages are indispensable. Don’t make affected employees tail you to receive their dues; make exit processes prompt and smooth.

  • Provide immediate career assistance: The immediate need for former employees will be finding a new job; support them so they can move forward. Reposition them in prevalent roles or repackage roles to match their skillset. Offer training so they can upskill and re-join. If those aren’t options, give them a notice of at least 30 days before termination. Partner with outplacement or career counselling agencies so they can find new opportunities.

How to Motivate Your Continuing Employees

A culture of fear and uncertainty experienced during layoffs doesn’t do good to employee morale, motivation or productivity.

A research study by BI WORLDWIDE, depicted graphically here, shows how employee happiness, commitment and performance scored among 402 respondents who survived layoffs in workplaces vs. 636 employed in workplaces without layoffs. There is a noticeable drop in employees sentiment and performance in workplaces with layoffs even though they survived the crisis; if not mitigated it can do serious damage. So how do you tackle it?

  • Make them fearless: BI WORLDWIDE’s 12 New Rules of Employee Engagement research study says organisations need to “Make employees fearless”. Talk to employees and make them courageous and passionate about opportunities, than sharing messages of consolation and self-preservation during layoffs.

  • Eyes on the goals: Goals often get side-lined during layoffs, as decision-makers are preoccupied with facilitating changes and rumours make rounds during lunch-table and watercooler conversations. Lay emphasis on productivity goals and deadlines, so employees do not get distracted and are always locked in on KPIs.

  • Communicate openly: Convey news - good and bad - with employees. Don’t leave them guessing about what’s happening. Managers can counsel teams to set the right tone and tackle negative talk. A global research by BI WORLDWIDE shows that 2 out 10 employees feel that their managers don’t talk to them regularly.

Make sure their immediate managers are available to listen to employees’ fears and concerns, so they don’t have to go elsewhere to voice their worries.

  • Make a strong proposition: While the strategies mentioned above may help mitigate ill-effects of layoffs, you need something more substantial to keep existing employees going. A strong bond between employees and the employer, nurtured from day one, helps get through ups and downs together. To foster a strong bond, meet your employees halfway, offer them what they want vs what they need, give them a strong reason to stay and perform well - whether layoffs or not. No, we’re not talking about performance bonuses or fancy team lunches; we’re talking about Employee Value Proposition (EVP), a unique proposition that an organisation creates for its employees encompassing work, opportunities, culture and benefits that they deeply care about. It’s the sum total of all experiences, emotions and interactions that offer them the physical, mental and emotional capacity to do their best at work. While layoffs may destabilize employee morale and motivation, a strong EVP can help reinstate it and shield your organisational culture.

Employee engagement is usually not the foremost priority for organisations during layoffs. To avoid an adverse impact, make it a priority and manage employee sentiment, opinion and morale and help navigate the organization through these crucial times.

Also published on Forbes India:


Siddharth Reddy

As a CEO & MD at BI WORLDWIDE India, Siddharth Reddy's primary focus has been to develop, nurture and guide a team of experts who can deliver engagement and loyalty solutions throughout various industries based on his domain knowledge and expertise. He has also been contributing to various insightful articles and talks on the Loyalty & Engagement industry.

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