How to Increase Morale After Layoffs

By Jeff Martin

Without question the last several months have been a bit overwhelming. Many of my friends and closest companions have felt the effects of a tightening economy. Each day my inbox and voicemail are inundated with messages from recently laid off contacts that are desperately hoping I can point them in the right direction. Last week as I was diligently dialing through my list of clients, doing my best to drum up new positions I was taken aback while speaking with one of my HR Directors. This particular contact is working for one of my largest clients and her company recently laid off several employees nationally. After we got past our usual small talk I asked my friend how she was coping with all the organizational changes. My friend told me that she was relieved to still have her job but was fairly distraught about losing so many of her colleagues. As an HR manager she had to perform all the exit interviews so it made it all the more difficult for her. She asked me if I knew of any HR openings she might qualify for as there was still a high degree of uncertainty in regard to future terminations. She also made the comment that it was very difficult to stay motivated and perform her current responsibilities because she missed interacting with her colleagues that had been let go. Later in the day as I was thinking back on my conversation with the HR manager I realized how easy it is to simply focus on the unfortunate people that get laid off. Seldom however do I ever hear anything pertaining to the remaining employees of companies that underwent major workforce reductions. Surely these employees have a sense of relief but how do you restore company morale after such layoffs?

The Hayes Group International suggests a five-pronged approach to keeping survivors afloat:

  1. Plan: Figure out how the layoff will be communicated and how to assist survivors. Work out reassigned tasks and responsibilities ahead of time. Communicate why the changes were necessary and how roles will change.
  2. Communicate: Explain how the organization plans to recover, what role the employees will play, and why the changes had to happen.
  3. Listen empathetically: Most survivors will likely go through a period of grieving and guilt. A manager who’s able to console his team can help improve morale. When your employees air their feelings, listen more and talk less. Postpone responses and judgments until you’ve heard the person out. Use positive body language: make eye contact, nod as appropriate, and show you are listening and that you care.
  4. Maintain trust: Many survivors will feel at least disappointed; some will feel betrayed. To try to maintain trust, observe three important elements — demonstrate concern, act with integrity, and achieve results.
  5. Develop survivors’ skills: With reassigned responsibilities, some employees may need additional training. Anticipate this and have plans in place; talk with your team as time passes to see if they need more support.

John Shepler offers some additional tips for managers to cope with layoffs:

  • Understand the need for a mourning period among remaining employees. Help provide time and, if necessary, counseling.
  • Assess which employees are neither apathetic or hostile to the change. These positive employees will make the best leaders during the transition.
  • Try to exude optimism; minimize criticism; acknowledge and celebrate successes.
  • Build teamwork by creating a sense of “we’re all in this together and need each other to make it.”
  • Foster camaraderie and encourage group discussions and input. Encourage humor, even if it’s gallows humor.
  • Don’t over promise; be honest. If you swear the layoffs are over and more occur, it’ll be almost impossible to regain trust.

Certainly there are several additional ways in which companies can increase morale. These are but a few of the simple techniques I found that made sense to me. My hope is that companies will recognize the concerns of existing employees and address those concerns in a timely manner. The sooner these companies can get back to normal the better off everyone will be.