Ask the Expert Blog June 18, 2020By: Barbara Mitchell

If you must lay off staff, your remaining employees need and deserve information about your decisions and reassurance about their role in the organization’s future success.

Q: My organization has been hit hard financially by COVID-19 and is considering layoffs. I’ll be concerned for anyone who is let go, but I’m also thinking of the rest of the team who will lose colleagues and will also be concerned for their job security. Do you have any advice for how to help my team stay motivated and productive if layoffs happen?

A: You’ve hit on an important issue that frequently is overlooked when layoffs happen. How you treat employees who are laid off will make a big impact on the employees who remain. Make every effort to be as generous and kind as possible to the departing staff, because the ones who stay will be watching how their colleagues are treated.

It is perfectly natural for remaining employees to fear that they may be next. Be as transparent as possible about why the layoff happened and why particular positions were eliminated. Don’t get into why specific people were let go—that information should not be shared with other employees. But you can let your remaining team know why a specific job is no longer needed and how the work associated with that position will be redistributed if it’s not being discontinued. Meet with each staffer individually so they can share their concerns and you can address them.

It is also natural for remaining employees to feel guilty. After all, they still have a job, and their colleague doesn’t. Give managers training—and possibly even scripts—to help them respond to these concerns.  It is perfectly natural for remaining employees to fear that they may be next. Be as transparent as possible about why the layoff happened and why particular positions were eliminated.

Help your team focus on the future. Where is your organization headed, and what role does each employee play in your future success? Reinforcing that each remaining staff member is important to the organization’s future should help them feel more comfortable in the new structure.

Finally, understand that people are experiencing higher-than-usual levels of stress and anxiety as this pandemic stretches on, and layoffs only add something else to worry about. If your organization has an employee assistance program, remind your staff that they can make use of those professional resources to help them through difficult times. Consider offering lunch-and-learn programs on resiliency, and find out whether your health insurance provider offers free programs on meditation or other stress-relief methods.

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to achq@asaecenter.org.