Tag Archives: Reduction in Force

Job Loss Emotions– Deal With Them Or They’ll Come Out Sideways

16 Aug

Stressed

There’s an excellent article in the New York Times about how to deal with the stresses that invariably will face someone when they are in a prolonged job search in these difficult economic times. Some of the advice I found most useful:

Periodically, you may need to “download” all your emotions — to write them down or discuss them with a trusted friend who won’t criticize or judge you, Dr. Molitor said. Then identify which things you can control and which you can’t. Throughout your search, make detailed lists of the things you have done and still need to do, she said.

If you keep your emotions bottled up, “you’re going to have stress symptoms later,” she said. These can include insomnia, panic attacks, and colds brought on by a weakened immune system, she said. (And these will make you perform all the worse during an interview.)

Mentally, stress can distort your perspective. “When we get stressed, the brain is sometimes ineffective at processing things rationally,” Dr. Molitor said. In short, things may not be nearly as bad as they appear, and you have more control over your situation than you think.

Years ago I received advice that stress will always come out– they question is only how– either in a way that you manage or “sideways”.

I’ve been in the job search and have felt these emotions as well– thankfully I had good help at hand.In my professional life have counseled hundreds of people through corporate-sponsored outplacement. I see too many people who keep stress bottled up, only to have it come out sideways at an unopportune time, like a job interview.

I told one particularly stressed out client I advised:

“Employers can sense that something isn’t right in an interview. They may not know what they’re sensing, but that uncomfortable feeling may make them pass on you.”

He took the mesage to heart and eventually got the job. To another client, who was both angry about being laid off and also depressed about the matter (anger and depression are, of course, quite related) I said:

Employers are kind of funny. They already have lots of angry and depressed people on staff. They don’t need one more.

He too heeded the advice and got about the difficult business of dealing with these difficult emotions. This is very serious stuff, and the advice in this article is a good place to start if you are without work and feel like your emotions are getting the best of you.

Is Your RIF Leaving Staff “Punch Drunk”?

11 Aug

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Yet another survey, this time from People Management, points to how badly most employers go about force reductions:

As half of UK businesses consider making redundancies within months, the damaging effect on morale has been highlighted by a CIPD survey of 3,000 employees. The YouGov survey found that 70 per cent of employees said redundancies had damaged morale, with 22 per cent so unhappy about how redundancies were being handled that they were looking to change jobs as soon as the labour market improved. Just over a quarter said they were less motivated as a result of redundancies.
Some 81 per cent believed senior managers needed to restore or improve trust in their leadership, as only a quarter said that they were consulted on important decisions. Just over half of employees said frequent and honest communications would have the greatest impact on improving trust. Public outrage at “rewards for failure” was also reflected in the survey, as 29 per cent said not rewarding failing senior managers was key to rebuilding trust.
Ben Willmott, CIPD senior adviser, public policy, said: “Survivors of redundancy programmes left ‘punch drunk’ by the process may not have the levels of motivation and commitment needed for their employers to capitalise on any recovery. Many disillusioned employees will vote with their feet and leave as soon as the labour market picks up.

Terribly sad, really. By leaving employees “sucker punched”, leaders risk losing those employees who survive the layoff. In the employee engagement surveys we’ve analyzed for our book Re-Engage!, we see many employees who are, to coin a phrase, “sullen and near mutinous.

To RIF Or Not To RIF– Is That The Question?

20 Feb

recession

There’s a fine article in the Omaha World-Herald about the ongoing debate of whether to sever employees or institute salary freezes/ cutting back hours as options to reduce costs given the tough economic climate. A number viewpoints are offered about both approaches. The article also raises an important issue about management and how any effort should be approached– here’s David Sokol, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway-owned MidAmerican Holdings Company:

In such cases, though, businesses sometimes become shortsighted,  Sokol said. They don’t realize that if they’re not careful, they could lose an awful lot of their best talent.

“Step number one is to make sure that you’re communicating openly and honestly about what’s going on, so that they’re not just hearing rumors. Because, frankly, your employees tend to be lot smarter (than that) . . . they normally know well ahead of your telling them.

As I’ve started in previous posts, it’s probably beyond my pay grade to advise a company whether they should conduct a RIF or salary cutbacks. I do think it my charge to continue pointing out that the success of either tactic will depend heavily on how management goes about it, including communicating in the way Mr. Sokol advises.

Salary Freeze or RIF? Another View

8 Feb

I recently responded to a question from an executive in the insurance industry about whether a salary freeze or a reduction-in-force was the best way to reduce costs while maintaining employee morale and engagement. I’d like to offer the perspective of someone who looks at this question primarily through the lens of my research and consulting experiences, which leads me to conclude it may have less to do with which choice and everything to do with how leaders going about it.

I spent 12 years with a global consulting firm that assisted employers with force reductions. I’ve seen that done extremely well, where both departing employees and those remaining are treated professionally and with dignity. The communication was open and honest, senior leadership was front and center to answer questions and get feedback, and there was a specific plan that was well coordinated that helped remaining employees move forward in a productive way. For those terminated employees there were decent benefits offered–severance payments, benefits continuation, preference for re-hiring, outplacement services– which sent a message that the leadership of the company truly cared about these folks and wanted to help their transition go as smoothly as possible. (For more information about outplacement services you might find this New York Times article of interest.) In those cases I’ve talked to all parties involved and heard very positive things about the employer in spite of the RIF, feelings that often led to employees wanting to return and solid productivity for those on-the-job.

On the other hand, I’ve witnessed horrible “RIF train wrecks”, where communication was terrible, rumors were rampant, senior leadership was hiding, and there was no plan to move the company forward confidently– disaster for everyone.

I think the same can be said for salary freezes. I’ve worked with companies where that has worked well, and others where the results are less than positive. I’m familiar with one company that has been frequently awarded a slot on the “Great Places to Work” list that Fortune magazine publishes every year, and stayed on the list one year when their business hit hard times and they were forced into both a salary and hiring freeze.

The common denominator for successful outcomes? Great leadership, of course, leadership that has built over time a positive, engaging culture. It’s been my experience that how a company will go about this is just as important as what they do, and effective senior leaders can make a big difference in determining whether a freeze or RIF is successful. If that leadership has developed a culture of trust and confidence they can more easily deal with many challenges such as a difficult decision such as this.

Your take-away from this rant? I won’t presume to tell any company what the best choice is from a financial perspective. But I can tell you that how you act, how you lead, how you communicate, how to vision-cast– all these things will make all the difference in the world regarding this any many other important issues in these difficult economic times.

“Survivors Guilt”– Impacting Engagement & Productivity

7 Feb

There’s a very sobering article in Time Magazine about so-called “Survivors Guilt”, the feelings of those working at a company that just went through a layoff and are still working– they survived the RIF. The article describes this syndrome:

Losing your paycheck in a recession is certainly awful, and those who hold on to their jobs are no doubt better off than their fallen colleagues. But watching colleagues pack their things and go — and dealing with guilt that it wasn’t you, anxiety that you might be next, exhaustion from the extra work you must take on and even envy of those who get to leave such a sullen environment — that’s not much cause for celebration. “Companies use the word affected with people who lose their jobs — the implication being that the people who remain aren’t,” says Joel Brockner, a social psychologist and professor of management at Columbia Business School. “They’re very much affected.”

Here’s how it feels to be one of the lucky ones: “It’s depressing,” says a market researcher in New York City who recently watched an entire division of her company be jettisoned. “You walk into the office and it’s quiet, the entire atmosphere is different. When someone gets promoted you want to say, ‘That’s great,’ but then you realize they got the job because the two other people in that group got laid off; this person was cheaper. You start feeling evil. People say at least you have a job, you should be grateful. Well, I’m not sure how happy I am. And then I feel selfish about that.”

The terms psychologists toss around to describe these feelings include survivor’s guilt (why him and not me?), survivor’s envy (thinking you might be better off gone too) and emotional contagion (the tendency to pick up your laid-off colleagues’ feelings of gloom and desperation). These feelings are with us in every recession, but as layoffs spread to more industries, people in all walks of life are increasingly experiencing them.

Fellow blogger Robin Tucker at The Proper Angle offers excellent advice to assist survivors. Her counsel is similar to what Leigh Branham and I have seen in our work in Beating the Bear Market with Engaged Employees.

Consider:

  • What can we do to make sure that departed employees are treated with dignity, so that their transition is as smooth as possible?
  • How can we work to allow “surviving” employees the communication channels they need to deal with their own feelings about this event?
  • Can we train our managers to more effectively spot employees who are not dealing well with this change?

The Economy and Employee Engagement

31 Jan

This image is such a sad but accurate view of how many of our employees feel right now.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve had a layoff. Jobs eliminated. Severance checks issued. Outplacement services offered. Unemployment insurance forms completed.

The next day, some of our associates will return to work– is this the image they will see? Not literally, of course, but do they see weeds and cracks and tattered signs? Our research indicates that is just how many employees feel, and those feelings are leading to significant drops in employee engagement.

Although these feelings are perfectly natural, we nonetheless need to find ways to address them. The research that Leigh Branham and I have done, in partnership with Quantum Workplace, offers five key ways you can do that right now. Check out my page “Beating The Bear Market”… for an article and link to a free webinar.

Engagement and the Economic Crisis– Part 1

26 Jan

There’s a number of different directions I could take this blog over the coming weeks, but the “lead story” has to be how employee engagement is being impacted by our current economic crisis.

This crisis is everywhere, literally. I’m standing in line at a local pizza joint. Behind me are several people who appear to know each other. I make a quip about “looks like you’re having a rough day”, to which one of the group says “yea, we just laid 50 people off today. We thought it would be good to get away and figure out what we’re going to do next.” Yikes, nice job of putting your size 13 foot in your mouth– I make my apologies.

I know these decisions are facing many of you. Like the folks at the pizza place, what you do right now as leaders will impact not only your business, but the lives of the employees who work with you.

I can’t tell you that force reductions are what’s needed in your business right now. What I can tell you is that how you treat everyone– those who are let go and those who stay– will have an impact. So ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this really the right thing to do now?
  • Are there other ways we can trim expenses without a force reduction?
  • What can we do to help those who are still with us deal with this trauma?
  • If we must sever staff, what can we do to make sure our actions are done in a professional and dignified manner?