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Morale boosters for those left behind: acknowledge the emotional toll of a layoff.

There is a group exercise called Lifeboat where there are limited seats in the lifeboat (always less than the group size) and group members participate in the selection of who gets a seat and who stays behind. Each person gets one minute to say why they should be chosen for a seat. The exercise causes a lot of self-examination and is intense and emotionally a catalyst for internal conflict. Layoffs are also like that and often worse. Those people let go will grieve and move on over time. If done right, those laid off will get assistance and eventually find a new way forward in their careers. But they are not the only ones who are affected and go through an emotional rollercoaster. Everyone who is left, "the survivors," will also go through duress and similar stress. However, there are things that managers can do that will go a long way to help those left behind.

What's Going On?

The first and foremost thing that will determine whether or not individuals survive or leave the lifeboat (the organization) will be the culture that existed prior to the layoff. Was the organization a good or great place to work? Did management and employees demonstrate good social and emotional intelligence on how they treated each other? If the answers are "no" then businesses are in for a rocky ride and the organization may not make it.

Secondly, acknowledge what is really going on with the company. Will there be more layoffs, reductions, etc.? Surviving a layoff is like living through a car crash where one person survived but others did not. Expect a grieving process to occur amongst those left behind. If the business has a compassionate workplace culture then there is light at the end of the tunnel. So what can be done to support those left behind? If a business supports those left behind in the transition then there are opportunities that can be realized. But, trust is required and absolute honesty must accompany this effort. Even just talking about it initially as a group can go a long way to start the healing process.

Organizations that understand change management are by far more responsive to market needs and take less time to meet and effect change--whether anticipated or not. John Kotter in his book "Leading Change" outlines an 8-step model for transformation in an organization. Those steps for change management are (1) identify the urgency of change, (2) form a strong nucleus, (3) create new vision for the change, (4) notify everyone of the vision, (5) empower others to act on the same, (6) create short term wins for those supporting, (7) maintain the state of emergency, and (8) anchor changes in corporate culture.

One Big Opportunity

As part of supporting those left behind, one big opportunity is to create more self-directed work teams that have a mission wherein they figure out the most efficient, cost effective manner to accomplish it. Management becomes a coach and support service that assists in tracking and reporting results versus directing and controlling. This is very uncomfortable for managers who have always worked from a command and control style. It means investing in work teams who must now work "to do more with less."

The organization benefits tremendously by engaging and allowing employees to own their results. Let's face it, we are at our best when we are under stress and aligned as a team and committed to solving a common problem. Getting to that place and creating that type of teamwork is not always easy, but when it happens then it is magical. When I poll people in meetings, usually everyone has had an experience of a high performance team that accomplished something significant. Every person over many years of doing this work has always said they considered that some of the best times of their lives and would love to have that experience again.

In Perspective

To put layoffs in perspective, begin by acknowledging the problems and engaging people in meaningful conversations. The company has experienced a loss and it is natural to grieve it. Those left behind will now have to pick up the pieces and keep going. Everyone wonders if they will be the next laid off, and how is the company really doing? Management's message is often, "Now you will have to do more with less!" Is it any wonder morale takes a big hit in these situations? Instead, acknowledge what is going on within the group and with each person as it comes up.

If an organization can acknowledge the emotional toll of a layoff, rebuilding after a tragedy/layoff is an opportunity for people to come together and form a stronger team. By being scrupulously honest and direct you will find employees more willing to say, "How can we help?"

Kevin M. Dee has a master's degree from Vanderbilt University and is the president of KMD Services & Consulting. He has more than twenty eight years of experience providing leadership development, organizational development, and human resource services in Alaska and internationally. Contact him at mail@kmdconsulting.biz.
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Title Annotation:HR Matters
Comment:Morale boosters for those left behind: acknowledge the emotional toll of a layoff.(HR Matters)
Author:Dee, Kevin M.
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 2016
Words:850
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