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How Internal Communications Can Help Layoff Survivors

POSTED ON 
March 7, 2023

Layoffs have dominated the news cycle for months now as more companies join the ranks of those opting to reduce their workforce. This is never an easy decision and how you communicate major organizational restructures and reductions in workforce (RIFs) is a delicate dance. Our brilliant Vice President of Strategy, Patty Rivas, has already shared guidance on how to tackle the challenge of communicating layoffs to your employees.   

So, you’re through the initial phase of communicating your intent of letting folks go, arguably the largest hurdle – but now what? When it comes to layoffs and org restructuring, our focus tends to fall on the employees we are saying goodbye to, as it should. But, what about the employees that will still be there once the dust settles?   

It’s important to not lose sight of the bigger picture and acknowledge that with layoffs come feelings of unease, vulnerability and even chaos for the employees that remain. And your organization is especially prone to drops in employee productivity, trust and retention.

How are you showing up for your employees during this time of transition?  

While IC pros don’t necessarily have a hand in the difficult decisions being made, you are tasked with ensuring your employees continue to feel supported and informed during the aftermath – quite the tall order!   

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are three things to keep in mind as you work with leadership to stabilize and empower your employees following a mass layoff or any other major organizational changes -- whether it be a leadership transition, an IPO, merger or acquisition.

1. KEEP YOUR Values Front and Center  

Following a layoff or other big organizational changes, morale can take a dip, with employees questioning their role, standing and purpose within the organization. Take this time to remind them of the “whys” -- why they decided to join your organization in the first place and why they continue to show up and put their best feet forward.   

This is the time to reinforce your company’s mission, vision and values while also reminding your employees of WIIFT (what’s in it for them). What are the promises you made to your people and how are you working to fulfill them?  

Your employee value proposition (EVP) was created for challenging moments like this– not just for the good times. Your values are there to ground you. Take every opportunity to make sure they remain top of mind through this time of transition.   

How to Create Company Values

   

2. Remain Transparent to Mitigate Attrition 

Trust in leadership is mission-critical during times of change and as a communicator, you have a responsibility to work with leaders to ensure their messaging is both thoughtful and transparent, at the onset and during the fallout. The details behind layoffs can be upsetting and cause for concern, but a well-crafted narrative needs to address the elephant(s) in the room.   

Follow-up communication must tackle the tough issues head-on, in an empathetic and understanding way. You cannot sweep things under the rug or omit details – employees would much rather hear the facts, as tough as they may be, then and there, not weeks or months down the road. This will also help stop the churn of the dreaded rumor mill, which can be quite disruptive for employees.   

Vague, misleading messaging is a surefire way to erode employee trust in leadership. If trust in leadership is already teetering within your organization, inconsistent and evasive messaging can lead to a mass exodus, with employees opting to leave organizations where they feel they have been deceived. Honesty will go a long way with your employees during this difficult time, so tell it to them straight!  

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it is present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” - Warren Buffet  

3. Re-engage Your People While Creating Space  

It goes without saying that layoffs can come as a shock and saying goodbye to friends, colleagues and mentors can be a difficult process. For many, it is a big loss that employees need time to wrap their minds around. Their day-to-day routine has shifted – with the biggest concern for employees often being how to do more with less.

Employees may be experiencing layoff survival guilt and need help coping. Providing your people with an online resource center is a great first step in offering support. Here are some resources to kick-start a collection for you (and your employees): 

And while it is imperative to continue to engage with your people during this time, you also need to give them space to process what has just happened. For some employees, they may not have all their thoughts and questions gathered right away. Here are some ways to provide that space:  

  • Town Halls: A follow-up company town hall or smaller department meeting is recommended after an organizational change to provide your people space to process and ask leadership questions. Transparency will go a long way, but it shouldn’t stop there.  
  • Surveys: Consider sending out a quick pulse survey one month later to gauge how employees are feeling. Do they have the resources they need? Are they feeling supported? What is working and what could be better? Getting a baseline on overall morale will be key in determining how to best support your people moving forward through this transition.  
  • Support from Leaders: Encourage your leadership team members and people managers to hold regularly scheduled office hours for at least two months following the announcement, so folks can take the time they need to regroup and focus. Organizational changes take months and months of planning. While leadership may want to “focus on the positives” and move on, they’ve also had more time to come to terms with their decisions. It’s only fair that they give their people the time they need to recalibrate too.   

How You Show Up Makes A Difference 

Layoffs are an unfortunate reality in the working world, but how you show up for your people and leadership can make a huge impact on how these events play out in the long run. Remain true to your values, always communicate with empathy and transparency and make sure your employees are engaged and supported, even if they need a bit of time before they’re able to join the conversation.  

The Best Ways to Communicate Layoffs

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Sonia Segal-Smith
SENIOR MANAGER, STRATEGY

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