There have been over 40 million unemployment claims filed recently in the U.S. & our unemployment rate stands at a shocking 11% – after hitting historic lows prior to COVID. The employees who have lost their jobs – due to this pandemic versus their performance – deserved all the assistance organizations could provide them. Now employers are focusing special attention on those employees whose jobs were spared – yet may be suffering from some disengagement & even survivor’s guilt.

After any turnover, the remaining employees can experience a range of feelings: happiness for their co-worker, envy, loss, concern for the rationale, questions over being next, etc. While the employees working today are certainly glad to have a job, some are also experiencing concern & a sense of guilt regarding their former colleagues. Many are wondering why they survived, what the organization is doing to support those laid off & whether the leadership team did all they could to avoid the layoff.

Studies have disproven the thought that following a layoff the surviving employees are so grateful that they are more productive. Leadership IQ found in a study of employees who kept their jobs after a layoff – over 4,000 employees in more than 300 organizations:

  • 74% said their productivity had declined
  • 69% said the quality of the company’s products & service was worse
  • 87% said they were less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work
  • 61% said they believed their organization’s future prospects were worse

These employees told the researchers that their losses in productivity & quality were due to their feelings of guilt, anxiety, loss & anger. But the employees who reported that their manager was candid, approachable, present & empathetic were 60% less likely to report any decline in their productivity & quality. This study illustrates, once again, the significant positive impact that leaders & managers can make. After this year’s rash of layoffs, many organizations are implementing the following types of practices:

#1 Being candid in explaining the reasons for the downsizing & discussing the other options that were considered. If the company is assisting with severance, outplacement services, references, plans to re-employ employees furloughed, etc. they are communicating those efforts in general terms as well. Employees are much more likely to be engaged & productive when they understand that the:

  • Leadership team had to initiate the layoff to sustain the business & their jobs
  • Employees laid off were treated with respect & support

#2 With the hours that employees spend at work, their lives & their work become closely connected. Co-workers often become close friends. And under normal circumstances that’s a good thing. Gallup’s extensive employee engagement research has shown that employees who have, at least, one friend at work are much more likely to be engaged.

So, an important step is acknowledging to your workforce that leadership realizes that employees are concerned for their former co-workers. And leaders can recognize the contributions of the employees they had to layoff by:

  • Reaching out to them & as much as possible, offering emotional support, job search suggestions, introductions to their networks, etc.
  • And encouraging the existing workforce to support their former co-workers as well

#3 Creating opportunities for employees to ask questions & share their feelings regarding the layoff & their laid off colleagues through:

  • Virtual or actual town-hall meetings
  • Providing team leaders, supervisors & managers with talking points addressing the key issues to help them in delivering empathetic & consistent messages
  • Adding 15 minutes at the end of stand-up meetings to provide a safe space for employees to ask questions & discuss their feelings

#4 Reorienting employees to the organization’s mission & vision which helps them shift their focus from what has happened to the possibilities for the future. Employees find meaning in seeing the connection between what they want to have & what they do each day. And that linkage can easily become clouded during a crisis such as we are experiencing.

Leaders can re-articulate how collectively the organization is making a difference in the lives of customers & communities – and the people employees care about in their personal lives. The motivation behind serving the community was abundantly clear to me recently while conducting an Employee Engagement Survey for a utility. When I asked what the employees liked best about working for the organization, they repeatedly said things like:

  • “Providing service to our customers – especially during storms; it gives me a sense of accomplishment”
  • “Serving & working with the community”
  • “Doing my part to keep the lights on”

With the COVID layoffs, it’s significant to recognize & accommodate the needs of employees who are dealing with their colleagues having lost their jobs. Leaders can show that they care by addressing their employees’ concerns & questions rather than avoiding those awkward topics.

Quote: When you have a layoff, everybody forgets about the customer and worries about their job security.
Steve Wynn

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