HR Management, Training

How to Develop Employees While Downsizing

Is your organization downsizing? Any HR professional knows how challenging that can be with everything from clerical tasks to maintaining morale.


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Although it might seem difficult at first, it is possible to continue developing your employees and programs as your company is downsizing. Below are some tips and best practices to follow.

Be Completely Transparent

As your company is downsizing, it’s imperative that you always remain transparent with your remaining employees about what’s happening. Let them know exactly why you’re downsizing and how you came to that conclusion, as well as how it will affect them.

Assure them that you still value their work and contributions. Coach your organization’s managers in how to keep their teams informed of everything that’s going on every step of the way and offer them support when they need it.

Overall, you don’t want employees to panic and quit in droves. And you don’t want to mar your reputation as being a good and fair employer to work for, as this will only hurt any future recruitment initiatives.

Furthermore, if you aren’t transparent with all your employees, those employees who remain with your company after it downsizes will have a hard time trusting you, your programs, and your intentions to train and develop them.

Create a Cohesive Vision and Plan

Work closely with executives and management teams across your organization to formulate a cohesive plan and vision for what your downsizing process will look like and what type of training or policies will be needed during this time of transition.

For instance, will you need to cross-train different teams with new skills after you eliminate part of a department? Will you need to offer better coaching programs to increase sales with a smaller staff?

Whatever your vision or plan is, make sure that it’s co-developed with every team that’s affected by your organization’s downsizing, and be sure to keep your employees informed along the way.

Bottom line, if you want your employees to remain committed and engaged, don’t expect them to simply pick up extra work that they’re not accustomed to doing without even being asked, without knowing about it, or without guidance or some type of training.

Treat All Employees with Respect and Dignity

Expect your employees to be upset, confused, and stressed out about your organization’s downsizing; their jobs are their livelihoods, after all. Listen with empathy, and help them as much as you can by directing them to helpful resources.

At the bare minimum, treat them with respect and dignity by listening to their concerns and by having difficult meetings in private. And always provide them with ample notice about all changes and whether their positions will be eliminated. Otherwise, you should expect to receive backlash and bad ratings.


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Encourage Thoughtful Innovation

If your company is downsizing, chances are high that it needs a new dose of thoughtful innovation to propel it forward to being successful again. Instead of leaving your employees in the dark while executives are stressing out, allow them to be a part of solving your organization’s dilemma.

Do you need to figure out how to land a new top-level client because you lost a large account? Are your operational expenses exceeding your product costs and overhead costs? Let your employees help you find a solution that works for everyone. Let them propose ideas for new schedules, operational processes, and more.

You could even host lighthearted competitions to keep it fun and entertaining. Most employees will welcome the challenge. And because they are in the everyday throes of your organization’s work, processes, and output, they will be a great resource to tap into.

Give Back to Your Employees, and Be Willing to Make Sacrifices

The best way to continue to develop your employees as your organization is downsizing is to give back to them. Let them have those flex schedules you’ve been denying them. Closing your offices 1 or 2 days a week while people work from home could help cut business costs anyway. Or, host fun events every so often where your employees meet and discuss new ideas and relax.

While these things might seem counterintuitive at first, they will boost your employees’ morale and remind them that you do still care about their well-being, learning and development, and what they do for your business. And that will encourage them to help you solve your dilemma and stick it out until the end if necessary.

Establish New Goals, Metrics, Responsibilities, and Programs

Your organization will change shape as it downsizes, and you’ll need to establish new goals, metrics, and responsibilities for those teams that were affected and altered. You’ll need to create new training programs or materials for those employees who are taking on new tasks or whose job descriptions changed altogether. And you’ll need to ensure that each employee knows what his or her new responsibilities will be and how his or her performance will be measured moving forward.

For instance, if you decide to merge your marketing and social media departments, you’ll need to consider implementing cross-training programs and will need to set expectations for the new roles that are being either combined or created as a result.

Follow Up with Your Employees After Downsizing Occurs

Once your organization has completed its downsizing process, follow up with employees to ensure they are aware of what’s expected of them and that they have the skills they need, and ask them if there’s any type of coaching, mentoring, or development opportunity that will help them excel in their new environment. Whatever you do, don’t pretend like nothing happened, and work to ease their fears and apprehensions so that they’ll want to continue to stay and grow with your organization.