How to Support Remaining Employees After a Layoff

Feb 01, 2023

As companies around the globe make the difficult decision to lay off a percentage of their workforce, they are faced with another challenge: how to help the remaining employees feel safe in their jobs. The problem becomes even more acute when senior leaders find themselves with less time to spend with their employees as they hustle to fill the gaps created by layoffs, revise strategy, protect their existing customer base, and double down on their solid revenue streams.

Employees who have survived the last round of layoffs are expending too much of their energy wondering if they are next, and when people are in survival mode, they underperform.

When your employees are in survival mode because they’ve seen their friends and colleagues disappear, the following is happening:

  • They secrete cortisol, a contagious stress-based hormone that diminishes their thinking and performance.
  • They have an incoherent heart rate variability which reduces energy levels, induces more stress and anxiety, and has a profound influence on their ability to think clearly.
  • They experience disrupted sleep, which diminishes their capacity to focus and work intelligently; and
  • They engage in behaviors they think will make them feel better, but which minimize motivation, optimism and focus.

Over the years, during times of stress, my clients often ask for two workshops – one designed for all employees and one designed for those who are charged with leading and managing through the stress.

Resilience workshops provide employees with easily accessible tools to help them quickly reset when stress takes over. For some people, hacks that help them feel their way into a new way of thinking work best. For others, thinking their way into a new way of feeling is more effective. There are evidence-based tools that can be learned and practiced through virtual trainings and can breathe life into your beleaguered workforce.

Here are three things that happen at the end of these trainings:

  1. Employees express gratitude to the organization for making the investment in them and providing them with easily accessible tools that work.
  2. Because these workshops have breakout sessions, employees have a safe place to connect with others and share the fears they are experiencing. The realization that they are not alone creates a sense of cohesion and community that companies desperately need to foster during times of stress.
  3. Employees commit to experiment with resilience practices and find a support accountability partner to keep them working positively.

The second workshop is for leaders and managers and is focused primarily on how to communicate with teams in a way that is motivating and inspiring during times of stress. They practice crafting messages that will resonate with their employees and find a way to personally reconnect with the organization’s vision, mission, and values.

Executives tell me that constructing a resonant narrative about where the company is and how it will get through this time reinvigorates them as well. These sessions start with an envisioned future, also known as a positive emotional attractor. Like my high school track coach used to say, if in your mind you can conceive it and, in your heart, you do believe it, your body will achieve it. If you can’t see it, you’ve little hope of leading anyone else in that direction.

In the envisioned future employees are engaged, connected, and aligned. Here it is critical that leaders can detail what that would look like. Describe how these employees are acting, what they are doing, and the behaviors you are witnessing. As if I were watching a movie, what am I seeing?

Behind every action is a thought and a feeling. Leaders are challenged to think about why they do the things they do. (Hint: it is usually because they have an emotional attractor – excitement for the challenge, joy for the potential success and knowledge or information that leads them to believe they will be successful). The practice of leadership requires the leader to understand how their teams need to feel and what they need to do to act in the manner most likely to lead to success. And how does that fit with how they feel now and what they know?

Simply put, what would they need to know (data, evidence, information) and how would they need to feel (excited, perhaps, or maybe even angry) to behave the way you want them to. Of course, the desired emotional state is entirely dependent upon what is happening in the organization and the macroenvironment. A narrative must be designed to move them from their current state to their desired state and ultimately to action and results. [GH1]

Here are three things that happen at the end of these trainings:

  1. Leaders co-create a positive compelling vision of the future, which is the antidote to survival anxiety, even for them.
  2. They learn the power of story and the critical nature of constructing a narrative that people buy into, which is one of the primary jobs of any leader.
  3. In working together in this way, they learn even more about themselves and each other, and giving feedback on their work builds the team’s trust and therefore the psychological safety of the team.

Although many companies think that during lean times they should reduce their investment of time and money in anything that is not product, sales or marketing related, that is exactly the wrong approach. As always, your employees are your most valuable resource. They need your support now more than ever.


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