Keeping Service Levels High in the Face of Lay-Offs
When someone looses their job it is as if there is an elephant in the room -- the person who has lost the job may not want to volunteer the information and the other person is at a loss for what to say. By saying, I was sorry to hear about your job. Anything I can do to help? you're addressing the situation and immediately offering your support. Let your friend guide the discussion. If he or she changes the subject, let it go. But, if he or she wants to talk, be ready to listen and offer support. Just reflecting the other person's feelings can feel very supportive. Listen. Focus on listening, but be sensitive about asking too many questions. Asking questions about a friends job search is fine if your friend volunteers information and/or opens the topic, but don't ask questions that may make him or her feel stressed. Most importantly, maintain the relationship. Sometimes the worst part of losing a job comes two months later when not much is happening. Invite your friend to lunch (and be sure to pay) or send a supportive note saying he or she is in your thoughts.
The worst thing you can do is to assume that your remaining employees feel so lucky to have a job that no other type of support is needed. Actually, the worst thing that you can do is have the attitude about the remaining employees that well, they are lucky to have this job, and if they dont like it they can be replaced.
Layoff survivors experience sadness akin to what people feel after a death or divorce. They become so fixated on the experiences of their coworkers, they cant be happy about keeping their jobs. Those left behind are usually dealing with an increased workload, and the atmosphere of tension and uncertainty that hangs after layoffs can make accomplishing that work seem more difficult and intensely stressful. Others start to feel less passionate or proud of the work they are doing. The notion that employees will be grateful and work harder after mass layoffs is a myth. In most cases, there will be a dip in productivity if managers dont make an effort to combat the sour taste left behind after layoffs.
If managers are sensitive to the needs and feelings of the remaining staff, business can go on productively, even if things are inevitably a bit somber for a while. While it may seem counterintuitive to nurture the people who were lucky enough to keep their jobs, its absolutely essential; otherwise, excessive absences, lack of motivation and decline in quality of work may follow. Managers should do what they can to ease employees workloads. This is a good time to get rid of extraneous meetings and shut down projects that arent directly related to meeting goals. When employees are feeling the crunch of an increased workload, the last thing they need is to be bogged down with superfluous tasks. Tasks which arent eliminated may need to be reallocated to others.
With fewer employees, consider eliminating unproductive meetings, initiatives that dont put you closer to your customer, and employee requirements that dont add value to your product or your service. Process map your key work processes to eliminate non-value added steps. Look especially to eliminate steps that are redundant, repetitive, time adding or permission requiring. Additionally, use a systematic problem solving process to tackle consistent, irritating problems. Create measures of success, and provide constant feedback, so people know how they are doing within the new organization. If you have downsized across the board you have a powerful opportunity to consider empowerment and involvement initiatives. Since you have fewer people, you will want to develop more engaged, thinking, caring employees, who are involved in decision making at a higher level.
A process map visually depicts the sequence of events to build a product or produce an outcome. Process Mapping Mistakes Principles That Yield Powerful Results Map all the details, losing track of the big picture Input goals in organizing your process map Focus on the seller, instead of the customer Determine how to create value for the customer throughout the process Map the process without showing how the results will be measured Map tools, skills, and performance metrics along with the process Use somebody else's "ideal" sales process Engage your people in process mapping to define problems and solutions
Reinforce daily, in a positive, mind and heart-stirring way, the vision, mission, and excitement of moving forward with the organization. Emphasize the positive goals that you can accomplish this year together. Make certain that the goals cascade through the organization so people feel strategically connected to the overall strategy and direction. Review the goals publicly, on an established schedule, so people feel part of something bigger than their work unit. This helps people focus on progress and the future rather than on the layoffs, the downsizing and the past. Provide rewards and recognition wherever you feel you can legitimately do so. Be creative and have fun with these.
Increase company activities that will restore employee harmony, friendship, and trust. Begin to establish some new traditions as an organization following the layoffs. For instance, form a Spirit/Smile/Energizing Team, to create random, regularly scheduled, activities. Give the team a budget and get out of the way! Examples of activities can be… create a secret holiday pal gift-giving schedule lunch and learn book discussions or presentations on topics people care about hold ice cream socials compete for the best decorated holiday windows serve hot chocolate/cider/doughnuts on fall days, and give away a pumpkin to each employee create awards for attendance, service and contribution; and do philanthropic work such as adopting a needy family for the holidays. Only staff imagination limits the possible ideas for new traditions within your organization.
Continue to hold expected events, sponsorships, and programs that people have come to count on from the company before the layoffs. Keep the familiar meeting structures unless the group decides to change them. Do not cancel expected forums because everyone is too busy or you feel there is a lack of interest. They become even more important during times of change. Instead of cancelling your summer picnic because its too close to the downsizing just move the picnic a few weeks later. Having some things not change can provide stability in the midst of a downsizing. It also sends the message that life at work does move on.
If you were to do only the following three things, and nothing else you would still make a significant improvement in morale. These three action steps are based on research revealing what factors make the biggest difference in morale and engagement. They are also the antidotes to three of the most comment complaints heard in employee focus groups and seminars.
Practice noticing when your people do something well. Then tell them about it. Unfortunately, noticing good things doesnt come naturally. Noticing whats wrong is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Our survival was more closely linked to noticing whats wrong – i.e. potential danger (Avoid that poisonous snake), than to noticing what is right (Oh, look at that pretty bird.). Thus, it takes conscious attention and discipline to offset this hard- wired tendency.
Dont just talk at employees; listen to them. Listen to their ideas about process improvements. Listen to their concerns. Listen to their opinions. This doesnt mean you agree, nor does it mean you have to act on every recommendation you hear. It does mean that you respect them as intelligent adults. Few things damage morale – and an employees respect for management - more effectively than a know-it-all boss who doesnt value the ideas of the people in the trenches. Not listening to concerns also creates a Why should I care about you, if you dont care about me? attitude in employees. Conversely, managers who listen engender engagement and loyalty. Listening also cultivates respect, because front line employees know that its just commonsense that the people doing the job might have a few good ideas about how to do that job better. Managers who dont get this, lose the respect of their people.
Practice showing more appreciation. A number of landmark studies over the last several decades have shown that appreciation is the #1 motivator for employees. Managers who dont express appreciation not only miss out on this powerful motivator, they also sow the seeds of discontent and disengagement. Few things alienate workers more than when hard work, going the extra mile, and showing initiative are taken for granted. Therefore, practice noticing when your workers do these things and then letting them know you appreciate their efforts.
Consciously foster creativity and innovation. Think about instituting share sessions at which people demonstrate their innovative ideas from which others can learn. Design what if scenarios into the current business plans. These can take into consideration the best thinking of the new team as well as create contingency plans for various possibilities. Finally, to re-emphasize, people must feel as if you know what you are doing, even when you feel battered yourself. A positive, optimistic outlook must be demonstrated by key leaders, decision makers, and attitude leaders or key communicators. During and following layoffs and downsizing, focus on interactive, visible leadership that re-emphasizes vision, mission, values and goals. Foster open communication.
Accomplishing the work may mean restructuring your organization. Perhaps the initial plans for restructuring were made by management before the layoffs. In fact, these plans often determine who is laid off. If not, now may be an opportune time to determine that advertising, marketing, and public relations, as an example, belong under the same umbrella. Hopefully, in your role in your organization, you will have the opportunity to affect the portions of the work flow that affect your job. If youre not asked by your manager, ask to participate. This is critical for your commitment and motivation as your organization moves on from the layoffs Studies have shown that surviving workers were reassured when they were allowed to participate in the restructuring process. They were more committed to the organizations moving forward to new success.
You need help. Your staff has been reduced and is now skeleton-like but the work load is the same. If yours is a desirable office, meaning that you have work that others would like to do, look for assistance in other internal organization departments. This is a way to train others and give them the opportunity to move into your department should an opening occur. Send the word out over the company grapevine that you need help in an effort to build an ad hoc group of volunteers. Make sure their supervisors are aware that they are helping out in your department in their free- or downtime. When resources are lacking, you got to ask yourself how you can reward people when you dont have any money. All you can basically do is to provide them with some skills and an opportunity to improve their credentials in an area theyre interested in.
Dont be afraid to contact the local volunteer centers, or to look for volunteers elsewhere (listservs, for instance). Volunteers can be a valuable part of your office, even those who are not suited to work with callers or who are not computer savvy. There is always some skut work that needs to be done and oftentimes volunteers are more than happy help out.
You may have some leverage to ask for some form of payback from the company if you consider that many executives are concerned about employees. They may willing to take steps to address the issue to avoid negative ramifications on morale. This could translate into more flexible work hours; allowing staff to work from home more often (and providing them with the equipment to do so), and looking the other way when lunch hours go long. Other perks can include an office with windows, a better work space, more vacation time, or a better title. Anything that doesnt cost the organization money, or costs very little, is worth a try.
If for whatever reason this approach wont work, and theres no leveraging the extra responsibilities for any kind of special benefit or compensation then its time to talk to upper management. Say part of my job is to tell you the truth, even if it hurts, so I want to sit down with you and prioritize the tasks that absolutely have to get done. In this approach, you are also able to make it crystal clear about what cant or wont get done due to the staff and time restraints. This way youre not skipping over tasks and then letting management find out about them later and have them pissed off at you. Rather, youre bringing them into the process from the start.
The people who report to you are worried for various reasons. Some layoff survivors are worried that they dont have the knowledge and skills necessary to do their new or expanded jobs. Some people are worried about having the time and energy to step up to the larger challenge. Some are concerned that there is just so much to do. This is an excellent time for a career development discussion with each of the people who report to you. Identify the additional training, resources and support they feel they need, and provide it if possible. Some people will feel passed over during the downsizing; they must be assured of their value. Help each individual feel as if the skills they have or are obtaining will make them highly marketable so they experience self-security and high self-esteem. In both the value discussion and the career development discussion, your goal is to help people feel confident that they have the capacity to contribute, to grow and develop, and to master the changed work environment.
What are ways that your I & R has dealt with… Downsizing Increased call volume with fewer people to take the calls Increased pressure from above to do more with fewer resources Staff morale (especially after a retrenchment) Etc.