The numbers are breath-taking. The 1,900 jobs to go at Fairfax Media, announced last week, represents almost about a fifth of the total workforce. Today the financial services firm, Perpetual, is slashing its workforce by as many as 580 roles, as it faces a big profit downgrade. Across the car industry, manufacturing and banking, large scale jobs cuts are taking their toll.
The aim of cuts is to bring new life, new directions and new focus to the companies involved, but the process is a painful one that can easily demoralise staff. Here are four practical steps leaders can take to keep morale up during painful job cuts.
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Every staff member expects and deserves some kind of farewell, but repeating the process week after week can be excruciating for the survivors. Plan one or two or even three large exit parties over lunch. Even losing a half-day here and there will be less costly and disruptive than multiple farewell morning teas, and more celebratory and positive for those leaving and those staying.
Empty desks scattered throughout the office are about as attractive as a mouthful of missing teeth. Nothing drags the spirits down quite as much as sitting next to the empty desk where a former colleague, possibly friend, sat over the years. Quickly after “departure day”, arrange for remaining staff to be regrouped into new teams, taking their personal belongings and their phone extensions with them. Involve staff in the new seating arrangements in they want to contribute to create some interest and excitement about the change.
Review job descriptions
Survivors of any redundancy round know they will be picking up some slack, even though it is jobs not people that have been made redundant. Discussing the impact on remaining staff is courteous, and the naff jobs can be shared around. Some staff may be excited to take on new tasks within what a new job description, and are more likely to accept it if their extra work is acknowledged.
Public sympathy tends to follow the people who lose their jobs, and those who do not may suffer survivor guilt. These days, however, survivor envy is also a common response: wishing to be the ones who have walked away with redundancy packages, ready for a new career choice and into a job market that is still very strong. The survivors are feeling grief and anger while having to do more work. Typically, they are also working with uncertainty about the future of their employers – will the situation improve, or worsen as a result of the changes? Wishing to be gone is deeply demotivating. Leaders cannot change the grief, uncertainty and envy that their staff feel, but acknowledging it, and being open to discuss the issues arising can go a long way to assuage the negative impact of redundancies. Many of the strategies used to manage survivor guilt are useful in managing survivor envy.
For more on employee engagement check out Left behind: dealing with survivor guilt after layoffs.