Anticipating Layoffs Post Coronavirus? Here’s How to Rebuild Morale Before and After

August 15th, 2022

As parts of the country are slowly opening for business, people are starting to look ahead at what post-COVID life might be like.

Social distancing will certainly be around for the foreseeable future. We don’t know many people who are too excited about going into crowded venues right now. In terms of the workplace, speculation abounds about what kinds of permanent changes we’ll see going forward. Will you have layoffs as a result of this downtime? Will your business rebound quickly? You can bet your employees are wondering about it.

Boosting employee morale during COVID-19

Whether your employees are working from home, laid off, or still on the job in the workplace, you can be sure their morale is on shaky ground right now. One big worry on everyone’s minds, especially in hospitality and retail, is: Will my company rebound quickly? Will I have a job when this is over? The truth is, at many workplaces, you just don’t know the answer to that question.

With that in mind, here are some things you can do to keep your employees positive and secure.

Keep the lines of communication open. Many of your employees will be uneasy, and open communication is the key to quelling those fears. If your employees are laid off or on furlough, it’s vital to communicate with them, reach out and see how they’re doing. Connection is important at this time. If your top brass hasn’t yet sent a message of support to the troops, now’s the time.

Recognize successes in the new status quo. More Americans than ever before have found out what it’s like to work from home. Companies that have traditionally not allowed work-from-home options have found, from this forced experience, that work does indeed get done after all. Teams are collaborating virtually and projects are humming along despite the disruption. Let people know how much the company appreciates their efforts. Might it be time to permanently update your work-from-home policies?

Ramp up the praise and appreciation. Your employees are the ones who are getting your company through this crisis. Let them know, early and often, that you appreciate their efforts.

Keep your people updated. Nothing breeds rumors and fear more than silence during a crisis. Let them know how the company is doing, what your plans are going forward, and how they might play a role.

What if you have layoffs after COVID-19?

The reality is, nobody knows how the economy is going to shake out after COVID retreats from our shores. Will your business bounce back? Will you need to lay off employees? It’s better to prepare for the worst and be delighted if it doesn’t happen. So, let’s talk about the possibility of layoffs.

If you’ve lived through layoffs before, you know that a company’s troubles don’t end when the exiting employees leave the premises. Layoffs can change the entire culture in the workplace, and not for the better. Survivors can be anxious that they’re next, feel increased levels of stress, carry around guilt that others lost their jobs, lose confidence in the organization, and worry about or even resent the increased workload that oftentimes burdens the remaining employees. In short, morale takes a nosedive. That’s why it’s vital to manage layoffs carefully before, during, and after they occur. It’s up to HR to take the lead on that.

Here are some ways to get through layoffs with the least damage to overall morale:

Communicate openly and honestly. When a round of layoffs is imminent, employees can smell it. Rumors start flying. If the top brass is secretive or silent, it’s only going to make matters worse. Be upfront and honest about the company’s financial health, be as transparent as possible, and encourage an open-door policy for employee questions and concerns.

Treat departing employees with dignity. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle layoffs, and a flurry of pink slips with no followup is the wrong way. Not only does it do a disservice to employees who are leaving, but it sends the wrong message to those who are staying. It’s also a sure way to get bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor, which are becoming more and more important to job seekers. Instead, treat offboarding with as much care as you treat onboarding, and offer outplacement services to your transitioning employees. It’ll strengthen your brand reputation and build trust with remaining employees.

Involve employees in restructuring plans. Instead of simply reassigning tasks, have departments come together to brainstorm ways to streamline operations and processes to get the job done with fewer people.

Make sure survivors know they’re valued and vital to the company. They’re still standing for a reason. Go out of your way to communicate that to them. Make sure you share the updated vision for where the business is going and the compelling, if delayed, business goals. This recalibration process is essential to shake off discouragement and create a new horizon point to rally around.

Do what you can to calm employees’ fears. It’s common for survivors to wonder about whether the company is going to survive, or if another round of layoffs is looming on the horizon. Coming up with creative ideas to help reduce heightened stress levels. Left unchecked, those fears and lack of confidence in the organization can lead people to start looking elsewhere.

While layoffs are never pleasant experiences for anyone, keeping your focus on the departing employees and survivors will minimize the damage and allow your company to get back to business.

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