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The focus on survivors: tips on how to gain the trust of survivors and reorganize the organization.

In today's economy, with intense global competition, many corporations are laying off workers, downsizing and issuing pinkslips. The prevailing management thinking appears to focus on the layoff and ignore the survivors throughout the entire downsizing process. Survivors are happy that they actually survived and still have a job, seems to be the management rationale; therefore they need little to no attention during this traumatic period.

We believe that it is very important for managers of a downsizing company in the nonwovens industry to plan and execute a layoff with equal attention given to those that remain and those that are departing. Survivors will pay close attention to the way their employer treats the people who were involuntarily terminated, since they want to know what to expect if the same thing happens to them. They will look to see if the company provided services such as outplacement, career counseling, severance pay, job hunting aids, adequate time for departure and job/family related stress counseling.

Managers should realize that there will be a dramatic change in the relationship between employee and employer after a layoff has occurred and there is a high probability of a decrase in productivity for a period of time. If the involuntary terminations are not handled well, the company's results will suffer. If the morale and productivity of those who survived are destroyed, the company will lose all or a large portion of the savings it hoped to achieve by staffing reductions.

Management's attention should shift to survivors well before layoffs are even announced. The survivors will determine the company's future success. They are the ones who are expected to take on the additional workload, to work smarter and to lead the company from its current state to becoming a world class organization. Layoffs can have a deep emotional impact on the people that remain and the morale of the organization can decrease significantly. They wonder if they will also lose their job and in today's job market, they might feel that there are no other choices outside their present company. They can feel guilty about the loss of their co-workers and they might also feel a need to work even harder to avoid being laid off.

There will be feelings of frustration, anxiety, insecurity, sadness, anger, fear and guilt. These disruptive feelings can lead to employee burnout and very high stress levels. Survivors need a chance to grieve and they must go through a mourning period. They need the opportunity to talk out their anger and hurt, caused by layoffs, to both managers and coworkers. These extra talks and additional communication from management will help them to heal and return to higher performance levels.

The level of communication from management should be at least 10 times greater than normal. Managers may tend to avoid the emotional stress of these difficult conversations. It is more convenient to sit at a desk behind stacks of paperwork than it is to talk to employees about their hurt. This will cause a lack of trust rather than a building of trust. Therefore, managers should spend more time in the work area, encouraging discussions about layoffs and actively listening to survivors.

Tips To Help The Survivors

We were recently working with a vice-president of human resources and plant manager to plan the implementation of team-based work systems at one of the company's manufacturing facilities. The corporation had experienced a very healthy growth rate during the 1980's. During the last two years, they were steadily losing market share to a host of fierce competitors. One major layoff had occurred that reduced the management and hourly staffing to three fourths of its normal level.

After the first layoff, employees were told "there will be no more layoffs." Another layoff was now eminent and would reduce the plant staffing further to approximately one half its normal level. The plant manager and most of the other managers in the plant were going to be in totally new roles. This corporation, like many others in the 1990's, had realized that involving all of its employees, by implementing team-based work systems, was not only a profitable venture, but also a survival issue. Since a second layoff was eminent, a survivor plan was jointly developed as prework to the implementation of team-based work systems. The following tips are for focusing on survivors before, during and after a layoff.

Build trust. Acknowledge the anger and hurt most employees will have. Encourage them to talk openly about the layoff and listen nondefensively. Be direct, honest and candid when answering any questions. Allow time for survivors to grieve and for a period of mourning. Share the reasons for market share loss and criteria for staffing reductions. Insure that all management shares consistent answers to questions about the layoff.

Increase communication. Communication should increase by 10 times or greater the normal amount during highly stressful times. Continually update employees on the status of the layoff on a daily basis. Management time in the work area should increase dramatically. Management should be accessible; it is a time for leadership. Respond to all questions and rumors, even if follow-up is required to get the answers. Explain how the work environment will be different after the layoffs.

Create a perception of fairness. Employees must understand the rationale for the staffing reductions and decide if it is justified and consistent with company culture. Provide ample, advance notice of the layoff and counselors to reduce the emotional pain. Discuss that it is due to elimination of jobs versus poor employee performance. Allow adequate time for the non-survivors to say good-bye. Communicate clearly the information about severance packages, policies and services provided by the company. Demonstrate how everyone is shouldering an increased workload.

Reward the survivors. Create a ceremony for acknowledging the changes associated with the layoffs. Show that you value their contribution. Encourage discussions and listen with empathy. Look for ways to give survivors small wins by working towards achievable goals.

In summary, since survivors are the ones who will implement the company's new vision and take it to its future level of success, management should take adequate time to help them talk out their hurt and anger. This will shorten the healing process so that survivors can become productive and shoulder an increased workload. The human communication will also gain the trust of survivors and quickly reenergize the organization.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profitable Manufacturing
Author:Clark, Dan
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Bicomponent fibers in nonwovens manufacture.
Next Article:The 1993 International Buyers' Guide of the Nonwovens Industry.

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