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How to manage employees after a layoff

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It’s the Monday after a layoff and employees are logging in from remote offices. Some are shuffling into the office, filling their coffee mugs in the kitchen and heading to their desks. The vibe, even from those online, is low energy and quiet.

There have been many Mondays like this across the U.S. over the past few months. And with fears of a recession, we can anticipate more.

3 types of layoff survivors

Here are some strategies to help ease the transition for the employees who remain behind.

In all employee interactions, transparency and frequent communications are your best tools to support employees and prevent rumors.

1. The Workaholic

This is the employee who is fearful of being next on the chopping block and doubles down on assignments and hours. While commendable, this employee is also heading to early burnout. Additionally, their work habits may be negatively influencing other team members, especially if the workaholic is the manager.

It’s important to communicate any changes to this person’s position or responsibilities. They may have to pick up extra assignments, but they shouldn’t be expected to pick up an equivalent number of hours or expect that from their staff.

2. The Survivor

Survivor’s guilt is common with employees after a layoff. These employees may have a hard time adjusting to missing coworkers and changing assignments and managers. Research shows that employee productivity falls after a layoff. Those hardest hit also need the most support. Human connection supports employees who need to express their feelings. Assigning employees a coach or mentor, perhaps someone outside the department, can offer a new perspective and guidance. Offering employees training for new roles can re-energize them and their reasons for working at the company.

3. The Lost

This employee, usually but not always, is an early career individual who doesn’t know what they are supposed to do. They may have lost significant teammates, their manager and projects. There was a business reason they weren’t let go, perhaps they have a specialized skill, connection to a client or have been recognized as rising talent. Their productivity may also falter due to survivor’s guilt, but also because they don’t know what they should be doing. This employee needs a renewed sense of purpose. It’s common after a layoff for projects to be halted until work can be reassigned. However, ignoring the people who work on those projects is a mistake and could lead to these stars leaving on their own.

HR is the one part of an organization that has the most to do during a layoff. It can be easy to put aside employee development and morale issues when there’s significant separation paperwork waiting for your attention. However, the days and weeks starting on that first Monday are critical to keeping those employees left behind. It’s always easier and more cost-effective to nurture and support an employee than to replace one.

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