How to Re-engage Employees After a Reduction-in-force

Communicate with Remaining Employees

To enable the organization to achieve the objectives of the reduction and/or reorganization, it is critical that a meeting with remaining employees take place as soon as possible after the reduction has been completed.

Successful completion of a reduction-in-force plan requires an urgent commitment on the part of management to obtain support from the remaining employees.  This requires communicating as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, and to providing ongoing support to the remaining employees.

The remaining employees are the new organization.  As such, they need:

  • to be informed of the changes that have occurred and the reasons for the changes.
  • to be reassured that this reduction is complete, and they are valued members of the organization.
  • to be told briefly that the individuals affected by the reduction are receiving financial and career support to assist them in their transition. Since this is a time when rumors flourish, encourage employees to verify rumors and “grapevine information” with you.

Come to Terms with Your Own Emotions

Recognizing your own feelings regarding the reduction-in-force is an important first step in preparing yourself to deal with the reality.

While you may also feel vulnerable yourself, you need to be prepared for verbal assaults on your integrity or management style by the remaining employees.  They are just beginning to react to the reduction-in-force and are dealing with an array of emotions from the sadness of losing co­worker friends to the fear that they may be next.

To help cope with these emotions, some employees may feel a need to place blame.  Unfortunately, the closest person they know is you, their manager, and thus the likeliest to be blamed.  Open, immediate communication will significantly reduce the chance of any misunderstandings.

Remember that the remaining employees are the new organization – they are the people who will help lead the new organization through the difficulties ahead, and they need to know that they are an integral part of the organization.  It is time to “re-recruit” and empower your staff.

Be Sensitive to Remaining Employee Reactions

Be sensitive to emotional reactions among the remaining employees.  Employee feelings can range from fear to relief.  Some remaining employees may feel guilty that they were spared.  Others may be angry that management was not able to prevent this.  There may even be some that are upset that they were not chosen.  In organizations that have experienced a previous downsizing, survivors may feel a betrayal of trust – it wasn’t supposed to happen again.

It is not unusual for assumptions about how layoff selections were determined to circulate, as well as rumors about future reductions.  If the reduction-in-force is a result of a merger, then it is common to hear staff discuss which side is being favored.  Do your best to calm everyone, but remember that some of this is natural and will fade with time.

Some employees will experience higher stress levels and may act out their feelings in uncustomary ways.  They could be more verbal than in the past about disagreeing with a new management policy or not be as punctual as usual.  While a manager needs to keep the rules consistent, he or she also needs to be accepting, for a short period of time, of uncustomary behavior as employees adapt to the changing organization.  This will necessarily be a judgment decision on each manager’s part and should be discussed with human resources and senior management so that a consistent approach is implemented across the organization.

Rather than simply recognizing disrupting behaviors inappropriate, the manager will benefit from giving employees the opportunity to vent his/her feelings and ask questions.  Find ways to get employees talking in the safety of a group.  When issues can be openly discussed without reprisal and with some attempt at resolution on your part, the workplace can begin to heal and organizational objectives can be addressed.

Career Partners International can provide a survivor venting program that facilitates employee re-engagement in much shorter time frames than usual.

Translate Loss to Empowerment

This is the crucial time when remaining employees need reassurance of their worth to the organization.  A variety of sensitive actions on your part will provide that kind of reassurance.

  • Share information about the new work structure; help employees manage new workloads, and be available to answer questions.
  • Be prepared for questions about job security, the quality of life in the restructured organization, and plans for the future — the organization’s and theirs.
  • Be visible and available. Remember the MBWA principle.  “Management By Walking Around.”
  • Make sure each employee knows that in your mind, they have been “re-hired” as a valued member of the new organization.
  • Challenge each employee to create his/her own new image in the new organization. This is a time when the organization and the employee can both “re-invent” themselves.

Continued visibility, open, truthful and constant communication, and support by management will promote a smoother transition and faster recovery following the downsizing.


Doug Matthews
Career Partners International President & CEO

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