The recession has hit Alberta hard; many professionals have fallen victim to downsizing and layoffs, but what about the surviving employees? Some managers might wonder why, during a time when all hands should be on deck, remaining employees are fading into the background instead of rising to the occasion. Where has the engagement gone?
Lack of employee engagement in the aftermath of layoffs can result from emotional strain on retained employees who are grieving the loss of team members and trying to figure out where they fit in following reorganization. Survivors are left to pick up the pieces but are uncertain where everything fits. There is no enthusiasm and certainly no team engagement! How leaders manage the early days following a layoff will determine whether they will retain their star performers in the long run and to what extent engagement is demonstrated.
According to the Alberta HR Trends Report published by the HRIA in the spring of 2016*, resignation for better opportunities is the most expected reason to lose staff. Survivors who are not engaged will walk when the economy begins to turn around. Leaders need to understand what it will take to ensure that their star performers stay and remain engaged. In a 2014 Global Workforce Study published by Willis Towers Watson**, two key engagement drivers for employees are identified; namely, trust/confidence in senior leaders and job security. AON Hewitt also published Trends in Global Employee Engagement (2014)*** indicating that career opportunity is a major driver for employee engagement. What can leaders do knowing these important drivers for engagement?
- Quickly get in front of your people following a layoff – communicate, communicate, communicate!
Good communication and being candid builds trust. Following a layoff employees want information and they want to be able to trust you. Deal quickly with your own emotions following a layoff notice and then promptly call your employees together and share with them as much information as you can. Help them understand how decisions were made with respect to who left and who got to stay. If you know that there will be no further layoffs then tell your staff this; however, be honest with them and if you are uncertain tell them this as well. Commit to keeping employees informed and ensure that in the weeks following a layoff you follow through with your “open door” policy. Paying attention to your survivors should be the priority in the weeks following a layoff.
- Spend time re-building the team
Encourage your survivors to reach out to each other and to provide each other support. Encourage them to connect at a social level – now is the time to suggest employees walk down the hall and grab a coffee with someone they may not know or head out for lunch on an outdoor patio. If career transition support was provided to team members who were laid off, make certain you mention this to the survivors – they will want to know that they are being supported. Encourage them to connect with members of the team who have left, as this will help them heal emotionally and move forward.
- Discuss reassignment of work and opportunities created by new and different job assignments
Faced with downsizing and the reassignment of job duties, leaders need to be proactive in speaking to their people about taking on new responsibilities and the impact this could potentially have on their professional development and career. Although it is important not to promise promotions or career advancement, it is critical that leaders engage their employees in conversations around taking on additional responsibilities and the impact this could have on their lateral growth and potentially vertical movement within the organization.
- Set clear expectations and then empower your people to deliver – don’t be over controlling
Engaged employees want to understand what it is you expect of them and then they want leaders to retreat and let them do their jobs. Leaders need to clearly outline expectations, especially if there has been a reassignment of duties following a layoff. Make certain to identify deliverables, timelines and what you expect in regards to “reporting in”. Flexibility as to when and how employees do their work is critical if you want high levels of engagement. Leaders need to ask themselves – does it really matter when and where the employee does their work as long as the objectives are met?
Levels of engagement are directly related to the effectiveness of the leaders within an organization. The leaders have the control over the drivers of employee engagement. To obtain high levels of engagement leaders need to be creative as to how they empower and entrust their employees to do their work. Micro-management and highly controlled work environments do not create engagement – effective communication, trust and flexibility in the workplace will!
*HRIA Trends Report Spring 2016
***2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement
This article was originally featured in the HRIA Essentials May newsletter. Check it out for more great articles specific to Employee Engagement.