How to Support Your Team in an Unexpected Layoff

How to Support Your Team During an Unexpected Layoff

My heart has been breaking all day. I’ve been doing the best I can with the onslaught of phone calls, emails, and texts from incredible leaders in the emotional throes of an unexpected layoff.

“I’ve been laid off.”

“I had to lay off my entire team.”

“We were headed for our best year ever, and now we’ve closed our doors.”

“Just as we had everything moving in the right direction…”

“My team and I all just lost our jobs.”

“I’m tired.”    “I’m sad.”    “Angry.”    “Frustrated.”    “Lonely.”    “Confused.”

Me too.

David just came in and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Writing an article about unexpected layoffs. Here’s what I have so far (showing him the title and a blank screen).”

That’s when I realized I needed a nap.

There are no easy answers right now. The best we can do is try.

How to Show Up Human During This Unexpected Layoff

I’ve written about recovering from a downsizing before. Sadly, I’m a bit of a reluctant expert having managed more RIFs than I care to count – both as an HR professional organizing the plan and a manager being told to downsize my team.

Leading through a layoff is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do as a leader.

And this is way harder.

No one saw this coming. Performance has nothing to do with it. The humans you are laying off are in the midst of one of the most stressful times in their lives. So are you. Each person’s story is heart-wrenching.

You can’t communicate in person. The economy is in a tailspin—you know it will not be easy for them to find something else in the midst of this madness.

And yet, based on what I’m hearing, a lot of managers are screwing this up—choosing to show up detached and matter of fact, “after all this isn’t personal.”

And so I humbly offer the best advice I have for this challenging time.

1. Banish the word non-essential.

I get it. The Governor made a distinction for public safety. But NO ONE wants to hear that the job they’ve been pouring their heart and soul into isn’t vital.

“Are you freaking kidding me? If my job was non-essential why did I work all those nights and weekends, including taking all those emergency calls from my boss in the middle of dinner? Even if they asked me to come back, I’m not sure I would.”

2. Turn on the camera and look them in the eye.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable. It’s crazy to have to tell someone they don’t have a job remotely. But, PLEASE don’t hide behind an email.

“I had just gotten our whole team used to this idea of working from home, and we had established a new routine, and then bam … we all got the exact same email telling us we had no job. Seriously, they couldn’t bother to tell us personally? You would think they would care about us more than that!”

3. Help them process their feelings.

“It’s not personal,” is about the worst thing you can say. Of course, this is personal. Losing your job is stressful under any circumstance. But it’s likely that this news is on top of some other traumatic stress they’re dealing with.  Go slow. Be a listener. Help them to process what’s happening.

4. Be a resource.

Endorse them on Linkedin. Help them clean up their profile. Leverage your network to help them find a job. “But what if they find something else, and I lose the opportunity to bring them back?” Then you will find someone else and know that you did the right thing.

5. Keep the door open.

Don’t make promises. But if you’d love to bring them back, don’t be afraid to tell them. People need to know how much you value them. Humans want to be needed. Be human.

6. Streamline the work for everyone else.

It’s unlikely that you “just cut the fat.” Figure out how to support your stressed and overwhelmed team that remains. Ask them for their best ideas on how to streamline the work and to serve your customers during this challenging time.

7. Find the support you need.

This is not your fault. You know that intellectually, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Acknowledge your emotions. Cry if it helps. You are human, trying to lead the best you can in the middle of one of the most stressful moments in your life. Find people who care about you and ask for help.

Your Thoughts?

What would you add? What’s your best advice for showing up human during an unexpected layoff?

See Also: How to Survive a Layoff

How to Learn From Your Employees During This Crisis

5 Reasons Not to Act Like a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

5 Reasons Not to Be a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

How you treat your employees on the way out the door may have more impact than you think.

What do you do when an employee resigns?

I’m not sure exactly why this is a thing, or if it’s getting worse in a tight economy. But lately, my phone has been lighting up with stories of managers acting like jerks when an employee resigns.

Here’s what I heard from Joe, just yesterday.

I’ve been working here for almost two decades.  I just got my MBA (which I paid for, not the company). When I gave my notice, my boss was so ticked off he wouldn’t accept my resignation (I’d have to go tell his boss). I told him it had nothing to do with him or the company, and that I’ve loved working here. I’m not leaving for a competitor (I would never do that), I gave them a months notice so I could train my replacement. I really care deeply about everything I’ve built here. I’m just ready for something bigger that they can’t offer.

So I had to go to his boss to resign, and he was a jerk about it too. Now no one is talking to me, and treating me like I’m invisible. It’s devastating to me after all I’ve done for this company. I know one thing for sure, I made the right decision. No one really cares about me here.

And, this one really broke my heart, because he didn’t quit, he was RIFed.

I’ve been here ten years, and am consistently the top ranked sales manager. My boss and I got called into headquarters for back-to-back meetings with his boss to tell us we had no jobs. My bosses boss told us,  “I’m taking the department in a new direction, but I haven’t quite figured it out exactly. We just don’t need you.”

Not one ounce of recognition of my contributions, including the last huge sale I had just landed.  No “Thank you for all you’ve done.”  No, “We will miss you. It’s been awesome working with you.” No “Let me know how I can help.” Nothing.

Just “Give me your ID and we’ve already locked you out of our systems.”

I can understand the need for a change, that’s not the issue. But after all the long hours, the sacrifices my family has made for all the travel, not to mention the extraodinary revenue I’ve brought in, why don’t they see me as a human being with feelings?

Why Do Some Managers Act Like Jerks When an Employee Resigns (or is let go)?

Here’s what I’m finding as I dig deeper. Some managers feel personally hurt and betrayed, so they turn the tables right back and inflict some hurt of their own. Or they’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of the extra work of having to backfill the position. Or panicking about all the work that will pile up while they’re looking.

In the case of the RIF, they might feel bad and just move as fast as they can to avoid guilt or conflict. Some managers worry if they say “Thank you” for the contribution they’ll open themselves up for a lawsuit.

Or, let’s face it, it could be they are just a jerk.

5 Reasons Being a Jerk to An Exiting Employee is Bad For Business

1. Karma

Seriously. Life is hard enough. Do you want more trust and connection in your life? Treat people with respect and compassion.

2. Their Co-Workers are Watching

“Did you see the way they treated him? If it could happen to her it could happen to me.”  “No one really cares about us. They’re ruthless.”  Trust me, every time there is a restructure at my former employer my phone rings off the hook, with people saying those exact words. The fastest way to trash employee engagement is to forget you are dealing with feeling human beings.

3. Your Brand (for Prospective Employees AND Customers)

When people feel hurt and betrayed, they don’t just tell their therapist. They tell anyone who will listen. On Facebook and LinkedIn. On Glassdoor. At their son’s baseball game. At church during coffee hour and on the prayer tree. Before you know it you’ve done more damage to your company’s brand than any cheerful recruiter or zippy advertising campaign can overcome.

With just a little effort to say think you, and connect at a human level, your departing employee remains a brand ambassador and is more likely to share all the fond memories of working there with their family and friends—”I’m going to miss that place.”

4. Rocky Transitions

In the first example, Joe is in the process of training his replacement. Do you think his heart is in it? Once an employee resigns, all you’ve got left to hope for is a discretionary effort for a smooth transition. If you want your employee to care about the transition after he resigns, show him you care about him.

5. They’ll Never Consider Coming Back

Most companies have ditched their outdated “loyalty” policies of never rehiring someone who quits. In a high-turnover, gig economy, that high-performer you just kicked in the butt on the way out the door, may have exactly the skills you need in a future project.

The sage employment advice to not burn bridges goes both ways.

If you make people feel like they’re dispensable, the damage runs far and deep. A little gratitude, empathy and celebration can go a long way.

Your turn.

What would you add?

See Also:

How To Build Great Culture in a High-Turnover World

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level (Training Magazine)

how to help your team recover after a downsizing

How to Help Your Team Recover After a Downsizing

Being a manager in the midst of downsizing is hard enough. There’s the initial shock, the communication, the “I wonder if I’m impacted too” angst, and of course, the really painful decisions involved in selecting who will go.

What’s equally difficult is helping your team recover, establishing a new normal, and figuring out how in the world you’ll get it all done with fewer people.

If you’re going through or recovering from a downsizing, first let me say, I’m sorry. I know it’s hard.

You care about the humans on your team (those who are gone and those who remain); perhaps you’ve also watched some peers go too, leaving you with some survivor guilt, and you’re worried about how to sustain momentum with a reduced staff, and, of course, there’s the matter of rebuilding morale.

I’ve been there. There was one dark point in my career where I received a call once a quarter for two years, giving me my Reduction in Force (RIF) numbers. By the end of that run, I had half the team serving my growing customer base and had lost some of my best managers. We managed to sustain momentum, but it wasn’t easy.

Much of what I learned from employee engagement came from that time. You’ve got to be extra connected and extra-human during times like that.

How to Lead Well After a Downsizing

Depending on how the downsizing was handled you might have some stupidity-recovery work to do. If you’re still neck deep in the downsizing, read my article, 5 Mistakes to Avoid During a Restructure, to avoid these sadly all-too-frequent mistakes.

If you’ve moved on to the rebuilding stage, here are a few tips that can help.

1. Keep Your Cool

I know it’s hard. It’s tempting to vent to your team as you stare at the mountain of work to do with fewer people to do it. Seek out some trusted advisors and do your venting behind closed doors. Your team needs to feel confident that you’ve got a path forward. Blaming others or cursing the universe only makes it worse.

2. Help Your People Find Jobs

Do whatever you can to help your downsized team members land well. It’s the human, decent thing to do for the impacted employees, and it will go a long way in building trust and loyalty with those who remain. Even once they’ve left your company there are plenty of ways you can help with networking and other support. Nothing feels better than helping a great employee caught up in a bad twist of fate land well.

3. Re-recruit Your “A” Players

There’s no question, downsizing makes everyone a bit twitchy, particularly when cuts involve strong contributors who just happened to me in the wrong chair when the music stopped. Be sure your “A” players know how much you value them and help them see the broader opportunities that are available to them, beyond their current role. Help them develop utility player competencies to make them invaluable as the company evolves.

4. Eliminate Less Necessary Work

Before you tell me “Nothing we’re doing is unnecessary,” get your team together and ask (and then don’t let them tell you that “nothing can go” either). Look under every rock for time spent on seldom reviewed reports or redundant processes. You can’t do the same work with fewer people for long without burnout or sacrificing quality. Get serious about what can go.

5. Strategize Failure

If you can’t find enough work to eliminate, know that some balls are likely to drop (or at least be picked up on the second bounce). Don’t pretend that every goal is equally important, help your team to prioritize. Be sure they know that if they have to screw-up something, which of their goals is less critical.

6. Go Outside Your Team for Support

You’re probably thinking, “Karin, now you’re really talking crazy, if we’re pressed, so is everyone else.” I bet they are. But I also know that in every organization, there is always redundant work going on. Instead of viewing other teams as the competition, or keeping staff at an arm’s distance to get them out of your hair, look for opportunities to partner. Could you pool functions and create a shared services group? Could you lend resources back and forth during peak times? Have the confidence to know it can be done, and the humility to ask for help.

Downsizing is never easy. I also know that of all the times I thought we’d been cut too far to survive, we somehow did, and in many cases thrived. Leadership is often about doing what feels impossible.

Wall Street Journal: How to Navigate a Corporate ShakeupSee also: My recent interview in the Wall Street Journal with Amy Shellenbarger.

And How to Deal with Setbacks at Work 

Your turn.

What advice do you have for helping your team recover after a downsizing?

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

Your team is downsized. Now what?

First let me say, I’m so sorry. I know how difficult this is to cope with as a leader. In fact, there was one dark point of my career that I received that dreaded call every quarter for two years. By the end of that run, I had half the team and more customers. But we made it through and believe it or not results actually improved.

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

As painful as downsizing is, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s possible to keep results going up, while your team size is going down. It requires a positive outlook, innovative thinking, and most importantly trust and support.

1.Keep Your Cool

Don’t let your team see you cry. Don’t vent to your team or blame “them (those above you, or HR)” for being clueless about how hard you’re already working. Get it out of your system offline and show up strong. Your team needs to feel confident that you’ve got a path forward, not get more unrattled as you lose your footing.

2. Help Your People Find Jobs

If the headcount being cut are not vacancies but real human beings, put them first. Do whatever you can to help them land well. Besides being the right thing to do for the impacted employees, it will go a long way in building trust and loyalty with those who remain.

3. Eliminate Less Necessary Work

Before you throw up your hands and say “Nothing we’re doing is unnecessary,” get your team together and ask (and then don’t let them tell you that either). Look under every rock for time spent on seldom reviewed reports or redundant processes. You can’t do the same work with fewer people for long without causing your team to tip over or sacrifice quality. Get serious about what can go.  Try our Own the U.G.L.Y. technique.

4. Strategize Failure

If you can’t find enough work to eliminate, know that some balls are likely to drop (or at least be picked up on the second bounce). Don’t pretend that every goal is equally important, help your team to prioritize. Be sure they know that if they have to screw-up something, which of their goals is less critical.

5. Go Outside Your Team for Support

You’re probably thinking, “Karin, now you’re really talking crazy, if we’re pressed, so is everyone else.” I bet they are. But I also know that in every organization, there is always redundant work going on. Instead of viewing other teams as the competition, or keeping staff at an arms distance to get them out of your hair, look for opportunities to partner. Could you pool functions and create a shared services group? Could you lend resources back and forth during peak times? Have the confidence to know it can be done, and the humility to ask for help.

Downsizing is never easy. I also know that of all the times I thought we’d been cut too far to survive, we someone how did, and in many cases thrived. Leadership is often about doing what feels impossible.

See Also: What To Do and Say During a Tough Reorganization (interview with Harvard Business Review)

How to Navigate Yet Another Office Shake Up (Wall Street Journal)

Winning Well: A Manger's Guide to Getting Results without Losing Your SoulFor more practical tools see our book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results– Without Losing Your Soul.

 

Managing Up When You're Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

Managing Up When You’re Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.