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Rebuilding Morale After Downsizing

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 21:16

By Leon Gettler

Restructuring these days is so common. Indeed, it’s unusual these days if you haven’t been made redundant at some stage of your career. It’s not an easy process for anyone to go through, and that includes the managers who have had the unenviable job of making people redundant. The most challenging part for managers is trying to rebuild morale after the cleanout.

Jannine Fraser, the managing director of outplacement firm Directioneering told me here that the most important thing to do is communicate with everyone after the departures, and to keep the exits dignified. Managers can’t do enough communicating in those sorts of situations, she says.

“This idea … is aimed at survival and growth and promoting an engaged workforce with the lowest possible disruption to business and reputation,’’ Fraser says. “It’s very easy to get caught in the detail of exits and forget what the longer-term purpose of the organisation and process is about.

“Ensuring dignified exits is fundamental because everyone is looking at it and wondering: ‘If it’s me next, how will it be for me?’”

Michael Comer at the Hayes Group says managers need to plan for this before the redundancies start. The need to plan how to help surviving employees adjust to organisational changes, they have to work out the communications required on why changes were necessary and how roles will change and they have to plan on how to improve morale after the “grieving” period.

Following the redundancies, they have to make sure they’re visible. The worst thing they can do is spend their time hiding in the office. They have to communicate with remaining staff extensively and they need to apply empathic listening.

“In today’s environment less than 50 per cent trust upper management (and rightfully so),’’ Comer writes. “However, most people trust their immediate manager. Because of this, the roles of manager and supervisor become more important to survival of the organisation. Managers must reinforce the trust factor since many survivors may feel emotionally disappointed. Once trust is lost it is almost impossible to regain…Our experience shows that effective managers understand what employees work for and know how to respond to their “wants”. There are instruments available that assist managers in understanding what motivates employees, but generally we say, “Ask them”. However, just understanding the “wants” is not enough. In a new downsized environment, the manager must create an atmosphere of motivation.”

Writing in the Sloan Management Review, Karen Mishra, a managing partner at AKM Consulting & Research, Gretchen Spreitzer, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Southern California, Graduate School of Business and Aneil Mishra, a visiting assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Michigan State University say that managers have to be trained to rebuild morale and obviously, the training has to take place beforehand.

“Training should explain how to communicate the downsizing announcement empathically and convincingly,’’ they write. “It should give the managers who execute the layoffs skills and practice in telling employees that they will lose their jobs. Managers, including the human resources manager, should be able to answer any questions. Sharing bad news with employees is never painless and is often accompanied by “terminator guilt.” These managers can become the scapegoats for a top management decision. Some laid-off workers will be unable to comprehend what is happening and will lash out at the messenger or become violent. But managers prepared to deal with their emotions and those of employees in advance can feel competent in executing this difficult task. Often these managers need counselling and support after they share the news with employees to deal with their own guilt and stress.”

Other suggestions include telling the people the truth and over-communicating and helping employees find other jobs.