How to Manage Staff During Tough Times

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

The economy has been improving, but many executives are still facing major challenges as they look for ways to save money and get their companies back on the right track. One consequence of those cost-cutting measures: layoffs.

For managers, letting go of beloved employees can be awkward and painful. And that’s just the start. Once the initial downsizing process is complete, the really tough part begins: Trying to lead a reduced and potentially shell-shocked staff in continuing to do top-notch work.

Real Business spoke with Lisa Rowan, vice president of HR and talent management services at IDC, to get tips on how managers can best handle the job elimination process — keeping morale steady and ensuring that there’s no drop-off in production.

1. Maintain an Open-Door Policy. After layoffs, the No. 1 thing for a manager to remember is to communicate honestly with staff about what has happened and why. “Sometimes there’s a fear of talking about it, so letting the rumor mill run rampant might seem easier,” says Rowan. “But it’s really not. It gets to be damaging.”

For some employees, “the fear of the unknown is worse than the actual act of a job action,” she adds. “When you know you’re going to have some reduction, it’s important to do it fairly quickly — rip off the Band-Aid, so to speak — and then communicate quickly afterward to the remaining staff to let them know, ‘That was it, we’re done, you’re fine.’”

2. Allow for a Grieving Period. No matter how well you handle things, the first few days after layoffs are going to be rough. Expect that the remaining employees are going to grieve and feel survivor guilt. Management needs to recognize that people are sad about friends and co-workers that they’re losing,” says Rowan. “Managers should reinforce to the people who weren’t affected that their value is recognized.”

One option is to provide in-house counseling for employees who want to discussing the situation with a neutral party. It’s also important to keep everyone’s minds on their work. “Don’t let people gather in cubes for days on end,” says Rowan. “You have to focus everybody on the job at hand.”

3. Provide Updates on Progress. As you move forward, clearly explain to your staff what the team needs to accomplish and update them when initiatives are met. “Seeing how goals are being achieved show that the organization isn’t spiraling downward and progress is being made,” says Rowan.

Also, it’s important that the remaining employees are treated with respect. For example, try to avoid salary freezes. “Do what you have to do to right the ship, but don’t prolong the agony of the survivors, because that breeds massive discontent,” says Rowan. “Make the cuts you need to so you can get back on track, but don’t keep punishing the people you didn’t let go.”

4. Small Rewards Matter. Yes, money is tight — that’s why the layoffs happened in the first place. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to reward employees who are going great work  – and taking on much larger workloads. Verbal or written appreciation is always great, but Rowan says you can also get creative with inexpensive gifts.

“Let’s say an employee achieved a monthly goal or did something above and beyond — you could give tickets to the movies or something,” she says. “It shows that management isn’t devaluing the people who are left behind. You want to make sure they know that.”

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