After The Firings, What’s A Manger To Do?

by drjim on August 31, 2008

How can a manager motivate a team after a round of layoffs?

How can a manager motivate a team after a round of layoffs?

Thanks to a sluggish economy, we’ve been reading about more and more layoffs, firings, staff reductions, rightsizing, etc. Your firm may have done one of these, be doing one, or just have started to think about doing one. No matter – letting staff go is can be one of the hardest parts about being a leader. There is a lot of information out there about how to let people go with dignity; however, there isn’t a lot of guidance on how to pick up the pieces after a big layoff. What’s a manager to do with those who escaped the executioner’s axe?

Since firing coworkers takes so much of a manager’s emotional energy, we can be excused for not remembering to take the time to adequately reassure those who are left onboard. Motivation is hard enough to do in the good times, re-motivation after a layoff is nigh impossible. As much of a challenge as this additional task is, it’s critical because studies have shown that the workers who remain quickly become unproductive and are unwilling to take on any risk now that they’ve seen what can happen to other workers. To top this off, all too often these disheartened workers end up leaving the company. Great – now you’ve gone from having to do layoffs to having to do interviews.

What’s A Manager To Do? A good place to start is to once again realize that every employee is an individual. This means that everyone will process the layoffs in their own personal way. A manager needs to let this happen. Dr. Warren Bennis is a professor of management out at the University of Southern California and he says that “Respect is the key word…” Layoffs often seems so cold and impersonal. It’s the job of a manger to work with the employees who remain and help them to understand why the layoffs are happening, acknowledge the pain that it is causing, and to let the employees know when the bloodletting will end. Having done all of this, then managers have to be able to sit back and listen. Allow the employees to react to the layoffs and realize that there are no right or wrong reactions.

What About Morale? Clearly one of the first victims of any layoff will be the morale of those employees who remain behind. One way that a manager can start to rekindle the light of motivation is to spend time with the remaining workers reviewing and discussing the organization’s goals. There are fewer people now and the key question will be how to achieve the goals with a smaller team. This is an important way to ensure that employees realize that they have a future with the company and they really will be better off once they are farther down the road.

Any Way To Future Proof An Organization? The ultimate question for any manager is if there is a way to prepare an organization for layoffs before they occur. The short answer is no. However, if a manager is able to keep the employees involved in discussions about how the business is doing, then there should never be any surprises if another round of layoffs occurs.

Have you been able to get a team of survivors motivated again after a layoff? How did you do it? What was your biggest challenge – team members or messages that the company was sending out? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Scarlata May 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm

I think that there are a few things that a manager can do. You must meet with each of the surving team members and allow them to ask any questions about the layoffs and allow them the opportunity to vent their frustrations. Try to explain to each person where you see their role heading after the layoffs, and try to have them focus on their enhanced responsibility and future opportunities for advancment over their perceived increased workload.
In a group setting its important to take feedback from the team about how they see the group moving forward and handling the increased workload with fewer team members. Encouraging collaboration among team members is imprtant to keeping morale up, people want to be heard and to have their ideas considered by the group as well as the manager.

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 16, 2009 at 9:54 pm

John: I think that there is something called “survivor syndrome” in which the folks who didn’t get laid off are too shell shocked to do any real work. Your suggestion about talking about what just happened is a powerful idea. I can’t even begin to imagine how uncomfortable that would be for everyone; however, I agree that it’s probably the correct first step to take in order for the necessary healing to begin…

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