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Problems with Morale after a RIF?

Posted on October 13, 2014
Kayla DineenWritten by Kayla Dineen | Email author

As an HR professional or a senior member of an organization that has conducted a reduction in force (RIF), you are well aware that it is a lengthy, meticulous, and difficult process.  So much time and energy is focused on ensuring due diligence, determining what positions may be affected, preparing severance packages, planning for the separation meetings…you get my drift. It’s easy to get so caught up in focusing on the details that affect the employees who will be leaving the organization that appropriate attention isn’t always given to the employees who remain with the organization. Layoff survivors often feel a range of emotions that your organization needs to be prepared for including guilt, anxiety, sadness, stress and anger. The side effects of an organizational restructuring can be physical, emotional and psychological to your employees.  So how do you best manage the staff that will remain with your organization after announcing that you’ve just laid off members of their team?

Below are six simple actions to take to help rebuild and maintain employee engagement after a reduction in force:

  1. Plan Even Further Ahead – You’ve got the day of positions eliminations planned out.  You’ve probably rehearsed what will be said and have run through the schedule of meetings to take place the morning of “RIF day” at least twenty times at this point.  What about that afternoon when initial meetings are completed?  When will you tell the rest of the staff about the changes?  How will team members ensure that work doesn’t fall through the cracks?  It’s important to think about life after the RIF just as much as it is to plan out the process of reducing your workforce.
  2. Be Intentional About Your Schedule – There is no day of the week that employees would like to find out they no longer have a job.  A lot of organizations have a standard procedure to conduct position eliminations on a Friday. As an HR professional, I prefer to conduct position eliminations on Monday for a number of reasons.  Employees who are being let go from the company are able to access unemployment offices, COBRA reps, and recruiting resources over the course of the next four days without walking straight into a weekend being unsure of what to do next.  It also allows the staff members remaining at the organization the opportunity to process and accept the organizational changes and come to work the next day as normal instead of leaving at the end of a Friday with uncertainty about their position.  Managers can be intentional about how they will communicate and work with their teams the rest of the week to mitigate angst and fear.  When determining your schedule consider your workforce and plans for communication and choose a timeline that best suits your intentions for the organization moving forward.
  3. Communicate the Truth about What Happened- Announcing to the remaining staff that the organization has conducted a reduction in force immediately causes a room to fall silent and often generates fear and unsettling feelings within the employees.  The last thing employees want to hear is a sugar-coated version of what is going on.  RIFs are a necessary part of a transforming organization and employees are better able to move forward with an organization and get on board with new initiatives if they understand why decisions to eliminate positions were made. Let the employees know who was affected and that the decisions were not personal, but business oriented.  It’s also important not to promise that no more position eliminations may occur as there is no way to guarantee what your organization will need in the future.  If you want to offer reassurance to your employees, let them know that at the present time the organization is now structured to meet the needs of the business, that there are currently no plans to eliminate any future positions, and that senior management will continue to evaluate business needs on a regular basis.  This should be a true statement at the end of each reduction in workforce process if your organization has taken a thorough approach to workforce planning.
  4. Communicate Next Steps – It’s important to communicate the truth about the organizational changes that have occurred. It’s equally important to tell your employees what the organization’s plan is moving forward.  How will work be redistributed amongst staff? Are there any new strategic goals for the organization that prompted the change? Did your workforce planning identify the need for positions that don’t currently exist within the organization? It’s important to paint the whole picture of the business decisions related to the RIF and focus on how the organization intends to be successful moving forward.
  5. Communicate Consistently- Rumors and hearsay can spread like wildfire in an organization that has just conducted a reduction in force. It’s important that a consistent message is communicated at all levels of an organization.  Best practice to ensure consistent communication during a RIF includes meeting with the management staff and preparing them with language on how to address the “who”, “what”, “why”,  and “what’s next” questions that their employees are likely to ask.
  6. Follow up- Offer your employees an environment for discussion to address any questions or concerns that your employees may have.  Consider holding small group sessions amongst teams following the RIF; individuals may feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts within their usual working groups as opposed to an all-staff environment.  In an effort to promote conversation within these small groups, I encourage you to prepare an agenda and questions to ask the employees that will probe discussion instead of relying on employees to speak up on their own.

You probably noticed that communication was a major factor in the listed approaches to rebuilding and maintaining employee engagement.  Poor communication is a leading driver of a disengaged work force, so in a period of uncertainty effective communication is even more critical. It’s important to treat the individuals leaving your organization with respect and make sure the due diligence occurs before you conduct the separation meetings; however, don’t lose sight of the employees that your organization will rely on to transform your business into its next phase of success.

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