The downsizing that has occurred in 2008 is likely to continue, and many economists are projecting even larger numbers of layoffs in 2009.
During a layoff, most of HR's attention and focus is on those being terminated, and it is not difficult to see why when considering all the administrative, legal, and logistical issues involved in a downsizing. But the single top priority of HR, for the sake of the organization, is addressing how to re-engage and re-energize remaining employees. The organization is betting its future on these employees. Yet at the same time, they are too often neglected during and just after a downsizing - a time in which employee engagement is critical!
According to a recent study by Leadership IQ, a leadership research and training company, 74% of employees who kept their jobs after a layoff said their own productivity had declined since that layoff. And 69% said the quality of their company's product or service had declined as well.
What can HR professionals do to ensure engagement levels do not suffer during a layoff, and set the stage for being a stronger organization once the recovery occurs? Below are four key areas the research suggests will help you re-engage your employees:
- Create confidence in your workforce through a compelling vision of the future. If there was ever a time for confident, consistent, and compelling messages from senior leadership, it is now. Senior leadership teams should work together and reach consensus on what the message should be, and communicate it consistently. HR can help shape this message and ensure that it is being implemented.
- Create more opportunities for face-to-face interaction with senior leadership - and do it in small groups. While e-mails are important for timely information, there is nothing that can ever replace face-to-face interaction with senior leaders during times of uncertainty. Town hall meetings can work, but smaller groups such a breakfast meetings, department meetings, or other venues of smaller groups, tend to be more effective because employees are more comfortable speaking out. HR can ensure senior leaders understand the importance of this need for dialogue and ensure it happens.
- Don't cut programs that have a high impact on employee engagement. If you invested in efforts to identify key drivers of engagement, typically by conducting an employee survey, cutting programs to support engagement has both short-term and long-term implications. In the short-term, already suppressed levels of engagement will decrease even further, and in the long-term, employees will remember these actions long after they occur, making many employees highly prone to turnover once the recovery occurs. HR can ensure certain programs are not cut by providing a long-term ROI strategy.
- Provide avenues for employees to express their opinions. If there was ever a time to ensure employees can express their opinions opening and honestly, it is after a layoff. If your organization has been conducting employee opinion surveys, 2009 is NOT the year to cut it. And if you have not conducted a survey in a while, 2009 just might be the time to start. While the scope and content might change, soliciting anonymous input during this critical time is not only important to employees, but if done properly can identify ways to make the organization more efficient now . HR can make a business case that turnover can be reduced in the future by soliciting employee input now.
While it remains to be seen just how long the current economic downturn will last, one thing is certain: there will be a recovery, and organizations that address employee engagement now, during tough times, will reap huge benefits and emerge even stronger once the economy recovers.
Dave Allen, Ph.D., is the Founder of Allen Analytics, a firm that specializes in employee survey research. click here to contact him.