Redundancy misfire: Communicating to the survivors

by HCA26 Jun 2012

Redundancies often come with survivor syndrome and from massive downsizing to just one or two employees, redundancies have a negative effect on the workforce. For the ‘survivors’ of the action there needs to be strategies and measures in place to restore the workplace back to its previous state, or at least a state of optimum productivity and engagement.

When redundancies become necessary, quite rightly the initial focus in on those being let go. Yet all too often little consideration is afforded to those who remain. Employees wonder if there’s more to come and some will consider leaving before they’re forced out. Those who are left have to cope with the range of emotions from guilt to survivor’s envy (when employees wish they’d been cut themselves) to resentment, emotional contagion (picking up and displaying the negative emotions of others) and uncertainty that can result from layoffs.

“In situations where it’s handled badly or uncaringly there may be a loss of morale or employee commitment,” Andre de Carufel, associate professor of organizational studies at York University said. “One of the reasons that sometimes happens is that the executives who made that decision have a better handle on the big picture. For the people hearing about it… they’re in a different emotional place to the execs.”

There are many different methods for making redundancies, all of which can have different effects on morale, de Carufel added. By communicating clearly, explaining motivations and giving as much information about the future as possible you can reduce the effect of layoffs and maintain morale.

Best practice tips:

  1. Give as much information as you can
    Layoffs often follow months of executive level discussion and strategizing, but workers don’t see that. By giving as much information about the company’s reasons and goals for the cuts you can help workers see the layoffs as necessary.

  2. Try to do all the cuts at the same time
    Uncertainty will keep your staff on edge and have the more marketable workers, who are exactly the staff you want to keep, polishing their resumes. If you can assure them that the process is done, they can relax and focus on their jobs, knowing they won’t lose them soon.
  3. Communication needs to be on-going and consistent
    There’s a big difference between “We’re not considering layoffs.” and “We’re not considering layoffs at this time.” Have one executive do all the communicating to avoid misunderstandings from different wording and ensure that the message is consistent. In these days of instant and frequent communication one announcement is insufficient. Two-way, on-going communication will reassure your staff that you are listening and care.
  4. If possible, help staff understand how management decided which people to cut
    “Survivor guilt” is common among those left behind so reassure them there’s a reason for every decision. If it seems like cuts were arbitrary or unfair that guilt will be worse, especially as workers may feel significant loyalty to their terminated colleagues.
  1. Be good to those who are leaving
    Giving the departing staff a “soft landing” with counselling and severance packages shows the company cares about all its employees. Showing respect and compassion to those being laid off will generate goodwill among those who remain.


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  • by Erica Collins 26/06/2012 3:32:30 PM

    The real cost of redundancies is enormous on key factors of employee engagement such as trust and commitment, and have long term impact. There are ways to avoid redundancies which actually increase employee engagement. But if the organisation is unwilling or unable to fully avoid these, then the importance of communication, as outlined in this article cannot be overstated.
    In 2 recent webinars I attended on employee engagement from Halogen and Right Management reinforced the importance of communication as a driver of employee engagement even during difficulties.

  • by Geoff Nix 26/06/2012 5:19:49 PM

    Agree with the broad thrust of this article. Also recognise the importance of giving the 'survivors' the tools to continue managing 100% of the pre-retrenchment workload with what could be 90% of the workforce.

  • by Erica Collins 28/06/2012 4:38:52 PM

    Hopefully Geoff an organisation retrenching staff will not be expecting 100% of the pre-retrenchment work to be done. They may still want the same results, but it will need to be achieved differently. This may be discontinuing a unprofitable part of the business or merging two areas. What is important is that there is genuine rationale behind the action that is explained and that everyone can understand (because it isn't hiding another agenda)

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