In today’s highly competitive market and tight economy most companies come to a point where redundancies, job cuts, restructuring and leadership changes need to be made. It’s inevitable and it could happen once, twice or several times as a means to minimise financial losses, create operational efficiencies and scale the business for long-term success.
If you break down what restructuring, layoffs and redundancies are, at their core they are all about change. And change can be terrifying. It’s an unknown, there are pending questions about what the change could mean individually to each employee, it can lead to stress and anxiety about job security.
And for employees who may have survived the restructuring it could lead to confusion, guilt, a sharp hit to overall morale and even a decline in their productivity.
Unfortunately, most leaders often only think about the 'what' in these situations. And they forget to address 'how' they will communicate and implement the many changes that will go into effect.
So employees are essentially left behind to deal with it on their own terms, which manifests in the form of gossip, rumours, panic, tension and stress. This is where HR should step in and offer clear direction, technology, and access to the right people to alleviate stress and boost morale.
Ditch one-size-fits-all static communications for a more humanised approach
If a company is gearing up to announce a large number of job cuts, or senior leadership is departing, how effective do you think it is to send out a company-wide email or memo? It’s too generic and doesn’t take into account each employee’s personalities, how they process change and how their processing method affects their mental wellbeing and behaviour.
You can bet this approach will backfire and lead employees to feel nervous and scared, which will make them more likely to ruminate over the topic with fellow colleagues, leading to further confusion, panic and anxiety. Worse yet, this could lead to unwarranted speculation about the company’s stability in the long term.
Instead companies need to think about how the leadership team communicates the changes. Leaders should have certain tools or people available to provide clear answers and guidance on what the changes mean for the organisation as a whole, and for each employee as an individual.
Approach change as a collaborator not a commander
There’s often an invisible divide between senior management and the rest of the workforce. This is often reinforced by how some leaders approach change as commanders instead of collaborators. Commanders direct, tell and don’t allow two-way dialogue. But this mentality isn’t productive in times of change.
To ensure that change doesn’t just happen, but is also clarified, understood and processed by the rest of the workforce, leaders must approach change management as collaborators. This means thinking about what types of information, digital tools and people will be needed to provide that clarity to employees before, during and after the change has been implemented.
Give employees a safe space (and coach) to quell fears in uncertain times
When employees hear about the changes to take place they’ll inevitably have questions – and lots of them. But they won’t always feel comfortable or confident enough to ask their managers, the HR team or even senior management.
And why would they if it could potentially lead to being reprimanded or a negative impact on their performance review? These are valid and common fears among employees.
It boils down to psychological safety. Employees need to be able to speak openly and candidly to someone who won’t judge, criticise or penalise them. Instead the safe person would listen and offer specific guidance to help employees manage their fears and anxieties, while also helping them communicate in a productive manner with internal stakeholders.
Technology like digital coaching tools can provide psychological safety during times of change and uncertainty. Employees can work on navigating their varied emotions on an ongoing basis, as opposed to having a single conversation and letting concerns fester in their minds.
Yannis Niebelschuetz is co-founder and managing director of CoachHub