Effective communication reassures employees after downsizing

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Print this page Genevieve Roberts

Whenever companies downsize or lay off workers, the employees left behind often suffer poor morale — leading to decreased productivity. In addition to a negative impact on employee morale, shareholder value and community relations can also suffer.  Companies sometimes develop strategies to repair relations with these outside constituencies, but often overlook the remaining employees. However, companies can take steps to reassure these “survivors” of the company’s situation and their own job security.

One relatively simple way to ease employee concerns is to increase communication with them. This is critical because the survivors think they may be victims in the next possible round of layoffs. It is important for companies to reassure employees of their future with the company and confirm the company’s direction and vision.

The best way to increase communication is to hold one-on-one meetings between managers and employees so employee concerns can be heard and addressed directly.  By asking employees what they are thinking about the situation, managers can develop strategies to head off or correct any problems or misconceptions.

This approach is the best way to diffuse rumors and reassure the “survivors” that their job is secure.  Be careful however, not to communicate something that you cannot deliver or is not the truth.  For example, do not explain that there will be no more layoffs just to try to appease employees unless you are absolutely sure there won’t be.  Otherwise, you will do more damage than good.

In addition to communicating with employees, employers should take steps to increase their investment in employee development, which is a key driver of employee satisfaction. When companies provide frequent feedback about employee job performance and jointly agree upon training and development goals, employee perception of longevity and security increase.

Companies also need to realize that while some of the employees went away, much of the work did not, placing more stress on the employees. Managers need to reassess the workload and decide what projects can be cut or rescheduled to keep the stress level manageable for the survivors.  Furthermore, companies should encourage employees to use their Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) to help them work through emotional issues and stress, or provide a similar resource if a plan does not exist.

By investing in employees’ career interests and growth, companies make a tangible commitment toward valuing their workers. When companies invest in their remaining employees, employees are happier, productivity goes up and shareholders win.

Seven tips for effective workplace communication

1. Provide and solicit regular two-way feedback
2. Frequently ask employees what they think
3. Encourage employees to ask questions
4. Develop a team atmosphere
5. Address employees by their first name
6. Respect employees and treat them fairly
7. Provide targeted recognition for jobs well done

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal of Richmond-based Titan Group LLC and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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