We’ve seen a lot of layoffs this year, highlighted by technology titans like Google, Meta, Twitter, and Amazon. Those who were laid off face the challenge of finding new positions, but they are not the only ones struggling with the change. Managers, many of whom have never led a team during an economic downturn, are struggling to lead after layoffs.
Government data tells us that more than 30 million Americans are in management roles between the ages of 25 and 44. The last time the country saw significant layoffs, outside of the pandemic, which was different in its impact on corporate employees, was in the late 2000s. Likely none of these 30 million managers were in their position then and came up the ladder during a period of economic growth. Now they are facing new challenges in leading after layoffs.
Just as managers are getting used to overseeing hybrid teams, layoffs have started happening. This leaves employees even more anxious and uncertain, which, if left unchecked, could result in lower employee engagement and higher turnover. A recent article from Fast Company outlines some strategies for managers to manage their teams during a difficult period.
Offer Empathy and Emotional Support
Layoffs affect everyone, including those that are still part of the organization. They, too, experience fear and stress over what’s next. According to the article, “One of the most important things that you can do as a manager is to simply listen and understand what your employees are going through.”
Check-in with your team individually. Provide a safe space for them to communicate any concerns. And make sure they know the resources available to them for mental and emotional well-being.
Understand Your Teams Needs
As part of the changes, you may have new team members, and existing team members may have taken on new responsibilities. Regardless of the changes, your team dynamic will be different. One approach to building trust and collaboration is enabling the team to determine their desired work arrangement.
“If a manager starts by having the reshuffled team determine their own schedule, that creates buy-in and engagement on an otherwise potentially controversial issue. Team members learn about each other and start to figure out how to work together. It provides a very healthy start to the team’s work together.”
Communication is Key
Hybrid working arrangements provide challenges and opportunities in communication. Survey the team on their communication preferences. The article states, “It is important to use technology to facilitate regular check-ins, videoconferencing, and virtual team-building activities. This can help to keep your team connected, engaged, and motivated, even during the period when they work from home..”
Be sure everyone is clear on responsibilities and expectations, and encourage everyone to be open and honest to catch any potential issue early on when they’re easier to address. And keep the plan flexible. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s the need to be agile and adapt quickly.
We all know how important trust is to success. The article states, “When trust is present, employees are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to remain with the company long-term. Trust also fosters a positive work environment and helps employees to feel valued and supported.”
Layoffs impact employees’ trust in their organization, and it takes time to rebuild it, especially for those most affected by the departure of teammates. Consider ways to ensure employees feel psychological safety. Encourage them to be open and listen without judgment. They need to know that they can be honest about the impact of the layoffs without fear of reprisal.
As the new team comes together and completes a project or a phase of a larger initiative, be sure to celebrate it. Let them know their work is valuable and meaningful and that you appreciate the effort. And if someone went above and beyond, recognize and reward them. Celebrating wins builds camaraderie and improves engagement.
Leading after a layoff is difficult for any manager, let alone those who haven’t experienced it before. By being your authentic self, treating your team with respect, and genuinely listening to their needs, you can start to rebuild the trust necessary to create a culture of teamwork and growth.
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