Your company used to hire a grand ballroom and invite partners to the decadent end of year Christmas party – these days it’s a BYO picnic in a park. Perhaps staff used to receive a meaty bonus – now it’s a voucher, or nothing at all.
The proverbial end-of-year offerings may not be what they used to be, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by staff. Yet when faced with budget restrictions, communicating with staff can be one of the first things to go.
The importance of good internal communication cannot be overestimated. It builds a committed and high-performing workforce that is focused on achieving goals. Informed, engaged employees are less likely to leave, be more innovative and work harder for the organisation. Staff who understand the reasons why an organisation has needed to make cutbacks may also become advocates for change.
The following* are some proven ways for HR and management to reduce the negative effects on staff of cutbacks, reorganisations and layoffs:
Calm, realistic and positive attitude from management. Directors, managers and supervisors set the tone as to how the work unit will react to the stress and challenge of unwelcome change. Consider how when you are on an airplane flight and there is significant air turbulence, one looks to the pilot and the flight attendants for guidance and reassurance. For your staff, you are the pilot and flight attendant. Your behaviour and attitude are critical elements in steering the group successfully through the transition. A positive attitude does not imply that you should deny the difficult and unfortunate aspects of what might be happening. Rather it involves reassuring your staff that you are all up to the challenge.
Communication, communication, communication. When staff are in a state of anxiety, especially about something as basic as layoffs and job security, it is normal for them not to hear and take in everything you are telling them about what is going on. You cannot communicate enough and in too many ways about what is happening during times of difficult change.
The best antidote possible against general employee anxiety and the destructive rumour mill is communication by management that is clear and comprehensive about the source and reason for changes. Management should inform staff of the process to be used for making decisions about staffing, reorganisations and layoffs, include facts about the schedule as well as the dates for implementation and how it will be done. Employees who are provided with useful information will feel less out of control and more empowered. They will also be more able to attend to their daily job duties instead of worrying unnecessarily.
Acknowledgement to staff of difficult times and normal reactions. There is a common misconception that if you acknowledge that times are difficult or stressful that it will make things worse. The opposite is true. The more HR can “normalise” employee reactions, and let employees know that the company understands they are affected by budget cuts and uncertainty – the more they will feel understood and cared for – and be able to function well. It is also a good idea to talk about how emotions can be more intense at times like this, and that we all need to be especially kind and patient with each other.
Appropriate staff inclusion in decision making and planning. Periods of negative change caused by external forces make employees feel especially out of control of their work circumstances. Allowing staff to add their input before, during and after cutbacks will increase their sense of control and add to their ability to trust management, contribute creative ideas, and commit to new ways of doing things.
Continued strategic planning in line with mission, values, and goals. An effective way to help ground the organisation and staff following a major layoff is to review the mission, values and goals of the organisation, as well as any existing strategic plan, in light of the reduction in force. This will serve to remind everyone of what has not changed and help to clarify organisational priorities and new realities given the reduction in budgets.
*Source: University of California HR best practice guidelines