How Many Survivors Will Jump Ship

How can we avoid having to clean up our mess once our remaining employees see other options becoming available to them? The dire financial results have been indicating a downsizing for quite a while, and now you’ve gone ahead and done it. All of the weeks and months of planning and agonizing over executing a RIF (reduction in force) are over. You’ve taken a big breath and started to relax only to learn that several very key people and not so key people have just handed in their resignations. Their reasons? “I’m getting out while I can!” “There’s been little to no communication with the survivors over dealing with everyone’s loss and how to cope with the ever-increasing workload.”

Worst of all, “This downsizing was executed carelessly, without concern for anyone’s feelings, and with way too many political overtones.” So the question is: How can we avoid having to clean up our own mess once our remaining employees see other options becoming available to them?

Talk with the experts. Talk with companies who have done this before and get their common sense advice – learn from their mistakes, not your own. Talk with and work with reputable outplacement firms. They can give you options that best fit your business environment, degree and scope of urgency, and company culture. CPIBN can provide training seminars to help managers assess their employees ‘their employees’ emotional state, teach them effective ways to lead their employees through these changes, and help managers adopt an attitude of “catching, recognizing and rewarding employees for doing well.”

Can we talk? Develop a communication strategy with your remaining employees. Be consistent, honest, and thank them ahead of time for their increased workloads. Keeping a dialogue going is critical to restoring trust with survivors. Continue to show your appreciation in ways that are creative and sincere but also budget-minded. Communicate early and

often. Managers should not assume that because there is no new information, there is no reason to meet with employees. They will make things up that are many times worse than any reasonable scenario.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Survival guilt is an honest emotion. Talk about it and get it in the open. Understand that people deal with change and loss differently, so pay attention and track the emotional stages that your staff members are experiencing. It’s an emotional roller coaster.

Don’t overreact to a productivity hit. If your RIF was very recent, realize and adapt to the likelihood that there will be an initial drop in productivity. However, if the RIF is dealt with openly and honestly, productivity will eventually rebound, and in some cases, may exceed previous levels.

Evaluate your career management culture. Now more than ever, employees need the reassurance that they are part of the company’s future vision. If they see HR and management as proactive in achieving future aspirations, they’re more likely to tough it out with you. If at all possible, avoid eliminating training plans that are pertinent to an employee and career development. Consider other approaches, such as e-learning, to allow training to continue at a lower cost per student. Perhaps key employees can be tapped to locate and evaluate different options that make it more affordable for career development to continue at the same or an improved pace.

Engage, engage, engage. Keep employees informed of positive improvements in company financials and productivity. Do everything you can to portray them as much appreciated contributors to the successes.