Rounds of redundancy can, obviously, be a difficult and emotional time for employees, even those who remain in the business. From "survivors’ guilt" to an understandable fear of “more to come”, the initial relief of keeping one’s job can quickly dissolve into further anxiety, suspicion, or mistrust.
And with business costs soaring as high as the pressure to keep customer costs down, restructures, streamlining and redundancies are, sadly, a sign of these difficult times.
According to official statistics released by the UK's Office for National Statistics, the number of redundancies in the UK in 2020 increased significantly due to the impact of the pandemic on the economy.
In the period of October to December 2020, the estimated number of redundancies in the UK was 343,000, the highest level since 2009. This represents an increase of 181,000 compared to the same period in the previous year.
And these statistics only include people who were formally made redundant and do not account for those who lost their jobs due to other factors such as the expiration of temporary contracts, reduced hours, or furlough.
More recently, there were 265,000 reported redundancies in the first three months of this year.
But what can leaders and internal communicators do to support those who remain, and help them through the transition?
Be transparent and honest
It’s vitally important that your workforce understand the reasons behind the layoffs. Employees always want the truth and now is certainly not the time to sugar-coat or selectively edit the facts. If they have lost colleagues, they need to know and understand why. Any blanks you leave in the narrative will be filled by half-truths, conspiracy theories and dreadful exaggerations from the rumour mill. Inconsistent, ambiguous, or opaque comms now will push an already anxious workforce to the brink, potentially resulting in a mass exodus of the skills and experience you have left in the organisation.
Larger organisations may even want to consider a bespoke internal comms strategy for this.
Show empathy and understanding
Acknowledge the impact that the redundancies may have had on those who remain, and offer support and resources to help them cope with the changes. It’s not just losing friends and familiar faces, it’s increased workload or learning new skills, taking on extra responsibilities, and adjusting to new reporting structures. These are all unsettling and it pays to acknowledge that in a sympathetic and supportive fashion. Show that empathy from the very top – counter any damaging “them and us” divides by getting heartfelt messages from senior leaders to the remaining workforce, explaining that they understand ongoing concerns, share their sadness at the losses, and to offer reassurance about what’s to come. Video messages here will massively outperform the written word, with tone of voice, body language and facial expressions delivering authenticity and empathy that words on a screen or page cannot.
"Empathy is a foundational leadership skill. It allows leaders to connect with their team members on a deeper level, understand their perspectives and concerns, and build trust and rapport. When leaders demonstrate empathy, they create a culture of psychological safety, where people feel valued, respected, and supported."
- Harvard Business Review, "The Power of Empathy in Leadership," 2020.
Provide training and development opportunities
If at all possible, now would be a great time to offer those who remain opportunities to learn new skills or otherwise expand their knowledge. Internal training, external courses, recognised qualifications, new soft skills, job-shadowing opportunities… they’re all worthwhile. As well as helping them adjust to any changes in their roles or new responsibilities, it shows a commitment from you to them in their future.
Foster a positive culture
Encourage “survivors” to support each other and foster a positive culture of teamwork and collaboration. Provide opportunities for team-building activities and social events to help maintain morale and build camaraderie. If you have a peer-to-peer recognition platform, ramp up its prominence and boost its use across the business with a campaign or two. Now is a great time for your people to be recognising and appreciating each other.
"Recognition is a critical driver of employee engagement and retention. People want to feel appreciated and valued for their contributions, and recognition is a powerful way to demonstrate that. When employees feel recognized, they are more likely to be motivated, productive, and loyal to the company."
- Forbes, "The Power of Recognition: Why Feeling Appreciated Is So Important," 2019.
Keep the comms going (and coming!)
Show that you care and that you are listening by offering follow-up town halls or smaller meetings that give people the opportunity to ask questions, air concerns or seek further reassurances. You could employ an interactive e-platform that offers up (anonymous) Q&A opportunities or instant polling, and share recurring themes or questions across the wider organisation. Consider running pulse surveys after a month or so to find out how people are feeling. Repeat these at months three and five to check that you’re travelling in the right direction.
Renew focus on your vision and values
You may have already explained that the redundancies were needed to keep your vision alive and to ensure the company stayed on track. Now is also a good time to remind them about why they chose to work with you in the first place, and about your values with which they align. Hopefully, this will tie in with what’s in it for them – a sustained future with an employer that values them, is agile enough to survive these tough times, and that really appreciates their contribution.
After a round of redundancies, your remaining people really will be your most valuable asset. And a potentially fragile one at that. Making a little extra effort to keep them informed, reassured and as buoyed as is possible could be an absolute life-saver a little further down the track.