Recent headlines have proclaimed massive layoffs in multiple sectors. Amazon, Meta, and Twitter have made significant cuts to their workforces, as well as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
Layoffs can strike fear into the hearts of all workers, not just those who have received word their positions have been eliminated. As a result, they may suffer what has come to be known as “Workplace Survivor Syndrome.”
According to The Open University, “Workplace survivor syndrome is a psychological, emotional, and physical response, when a person … surviv[es] retrenchment when others haven’t, leaving them with a feeling of self-guilt. Many studies show that those left behind can find it difficult.”
These distracted, demoralized staff members can take a toll on the whole organization. “They display an increase in alcohol consumption, smoking, and workplace injury,” the aforementioned article continues. “Other studies show an effect on mental health, with reports of depression, poor morale, and reduction in productivity.”
Wise HR professionals must therefore rebuild connections with their workforce in the wake of layoffs. This is true at companies that have not instituted layoffs themselves, in addition to those that have. Decreased performance from employees is a red flag that you should consider implementing damage-control strategies for, like those explained below.
Make the First Move
It’s the leader’s responsibility to reconnect with staff, not the other way around. This means you should go after disaffected workers first and open up a dialogue.
To address teammates’ concerns effectively in such conversations, start by asking about and recognizing how they feel. Workplace survivor syndrome is common, and fear is a normal reaction to hearing about massive layoffs or a possible recession. Simply being able to express distracting emotions in a safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere will start to ease their concerns.
Most importantly, don’t wait until a crisis hits to build a genuine connection with your employees. Get to know them on a personal level from the beginning, and allow them to get to know you on a personal level, too. Genuine connections, openness, and authenticity build trust among team members. Having strong, real relationships in place will give you a head start while having difficult conversations.
The next step is to make sure your staff feels appreciated. Toward this end, clearly communicate that the company values their contributions. A healthy company culture takes care of its people above anything else. If the company takes care of them, then they will take care of it.
Instead of assuming you already know how best to recognize employee excellence, I recommend asking workers how you can make them feel special. When you listen to the resulting feedback, you may be surprised how little they ask for or how easy it will be to give them what they need. Staff often feel buoyed by rewards that don’t cost anything, like publicly receiving credit for work well done.
Even if their feedback does seem to ask for a lot at first, try to keep an open mind, and remember that negotiations between business leaders and workers don’t have to be adversarial. Collaborative conflict management can help everyone brainstorm new options forward and unearth possibilities that are win-win for everyone.
Let Them Take Ownership
It’s also important to include employees in discussions about your company’s future. This is a good time to talk about the business’s profitability and emphasize that you have contingency plans in case of an economic downturn, as well as ample resources to carry the enterprise through a dry spell.
Personally, I also like to remind them that problems often bring previously unseen opportunities and that we will not just survive but also thrive during challenging times.
In addition, I advise involving your team members in high-level conversations and company initiatives. This is because, most of the time, people like the ability to shape the organization’s future and won’t walk away while engaged in strategic planning. As a result, they feel like they have a stake in the company and often become more committed to its mission.
In other words, boosting your teammates’ “why” will increase their loyalty. If workers forget their purpose, then they can veer off track. Connecting their intrinsic motivation to the business encourages them to reengage.
By following these tips, you can maintain your company’s culture and improve employees’ emotional stability. In consequence, you will retain talented staff, and they will return to hitting their key performance indicators.
Shiela Mie Legaspi is an organizational-development expert and the President of Cyberbacker, a provider of world-class administrative support and virtual assistant services from anywhere in the world to anyone in the world.