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By Matt Duczeminski

Four strategic ways to motivate employees who survived a round of layoffs

There’s no way around it: When a company is forced to downsize, people will be hurt.

Loyal employees will lose their jobs through no real fault of their own.

Supervisors will have to relay the bad news, even if the decision came from way above them.

And the employees who have survived the round of layoffs will likely be relieved, but still wary of their future with the company.

After the decision is made to lay off a group of employees, managers and supervisors face an uphill battle. They have to somehow keep their remaining team members focused on forging ahead while also reassuring them that the layoffs needed to happen for the good of the company.

The question is: How can this be done in a way that humanizes the situation while also maintaining a “strictly business” mindset?

Be candid

Surviving employees will have had to stand by helplessly as their colleagues and friends lost their jobs. Not only that, but those who keep their jobs may also start to believe their bosses see them as dispensable.

This train of thought can be disheartening and dehumanizing all at once. It’s a supervisor’s duty to quell this notion so the employees continue to feel valued and respected — and so the company can continue to grow.

They can do this by being as candid as possible throughout the entire layoff process.

Managers need to ensure surviving employees understand the reasoning behind the layoffs. And these reasons can’t be superficial; telling workers the company is “headed in a new direction” simply doesn’t help anyone, and will only breed contempt among employees.

Explain exactly what changes are being made and how these changes will benefit the company as a whole, as well as individual workers. People are naturally afraid of change — but change isn’t always bad.

Managers should also be prepared to answer questions their employees have as honestly as possible. This is not the time to tell workers to “not worry about” something. If you don’t have an answer for them right away, do your due diligence and look into it — and follow up with them — immediately.

Recognize those still working

As mentioned, surviving employees may tend to feel disposable after a round of layoffs, despite having made the cut.

Managers can alleviate this, first and foremost, by treating them as human beings first, employees second. Recognize that they have lives outside of work and families who rely on them for support.

That being said, workers should never feel that they deserve a job simply because they have mouths to feed at home. Supervisors can put a positive spin on this, however, by explaining that the reason they’re still employed is because they’ve worked hard and deserve to keep their position.

This is the perfect opportunity to motivate surviving employees to be even more diligent in their work.

Dr. John Sienrukos introduced the D.I.D. model to help companies and employees move forward after a round of layoffs:

  • Direction – Reinforce the direction employees want to continue heading in their career

  • Intensity – Define how much they are willing to work to get there

  • Duration – Define how long they’ll stick with it to get where they want to be

Implementing this strategy ensures surviving employees don’t get complacent and ensures the company continues moving forward.

Readjust workloads

After a round of layoffs, it can be tempting for managers to simply dump more work on individual employees who worked alongside those who lost their jobs. However, that would simply be a short-term fix that would lead to much larger problems in the future.

Instead, supervisors should reassign roles based on employees’ talents and abilities. By assessing each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and adjusting their expectations of their employees accordingly, managers can ensure the team continues to run at full capacity, despite having lost one or more members.

Since hiring new employees is obviously out of the question for the time being, supervisors should look into workshops and other continuing education for their employees. Managers should look for potential in their workers and be able to suggest ways in which they could hone these skills to make them as indispensable as possible. By providing educational opportunities for their team members, managers strengthen their workers’ abilities and the abilities of the team as a whole.

Reinforce company goals

Even though, as supervisor of a team, you need to make sure your employees know you see them as people, your ultimate responsibility lies in doing what’s best for the company. And you need to make sure your entire team is on board, as well.

After a round of layoffs, you’ll need to get your team refocused on the goals of the company. This may mean revisiting or adjusting the goals you’ve set for individual employees, as well as for your team as a whole.

As you adjust your employees’ workloads, you’ll need to have a plan for how everyone will meet their new expectations and how you’ll be able to support them along the way.

Finally, you’ll also need to rebuild mutual trust between yourself and your employees. This won’t happen overnight. But with honesty, dedication, and diligence — on your part as well as your employees’ — the rapport between all members of the team will continue to grow stronger.

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