Preparing for Staff Reductions: The Impact on Employees
Here is the third installment of our weekly series Departing with Dignity, a conversation between Higher Landing Founder & CEO Jackie Rafter and Brian Hallamore, formerly an HR Executive with Imperial Oil. This week, Jackie and Brian discuss the impacts staff reductions can have on managers and front-line staff, and some of the strategies individuals and organizations can employ to overcome them.
For earlier parts of this series click <HERE>.
Jackie Rafter: You’ve alluded to the experiences managers have during staff reductions. Could we focus on that some more?
Brian Hallamore: As we discussed earlier, managers have unique challenges during times of significant staff reductions.
First, if they are very senior, they have more time to think through the implications of the changes that will occur, and they are in a better position to see a bigger picture than those working for them. Without due care, senior managers can easily appear distant, aloof and not very empathetic to what the rest of the organization experiences. So for senior management, the key is to go to greater lengths to be visible to employees and to listen to their concerns, to try and understand what employees are experiencing and to demonstrate that.
For middle managers and supervisors, the challenge is different. In their cases, they did not design the reductions, or were involved at a later stage, so they don’t typically have as much background on rationale, and can truly become the “meat in the sandwich” because they have senior management demanding changes occur quickly and they are also the face of the organization to their employees, and they will not always have “the answers”. They have no choice but to at least hear employee concerns, because they deal with them directly every day and there are fewer filters in place for them.
Managers and supervisors can be much more effective if they are trained. Training should include:
- detailed explanations of the rationale for the changes;
- an opportunity to question what is occurring and why;
- what they should be expecting from their workforce;
- information regarding the supports they will have access to in order to deal with issues as they come up;
- what is going to happen and when; and
- what the specific expectations are for them in this role.
As managers are trained and questions and issues arise, there needs to be a quick way to get these to people who can respond quickly and adjust how things will occur, if this is needed. There is little worse than designing a perfect process for staff reductions and then not modifying it in the face of compelling feedback that something is going off the rails. One of the biggest issues managers and supervisors will face is that prior to anything occurring, their respective organizations expect managers know everything. The trap here is that these managers might actually try and fulfill that expectation when they don’t have the information to be able to do so. Finally, it is important to address up front some of the feelings people will experience once the reductions are completed so managers can prepare for them.
Managers are also dealing with the knowledge that they are staying or leaving, often only slightly ahead of communicating with their employees about their futures in the organization. They need time and support to process what is happening to them and their colleagues. If there is no time to do this prior to employee communications, it is important to build it in afterwards.
Rafter: What about the issues that affect employees in the times prior to reductions occurring?
Hallamore: Employees can feel very disempowered by a process like this, and this can affect organizational performance. Generally, while the planning is occurring, there are all kinds of rumors. As an employee, you need to do your level best to ignore every rumor you hear and focus on getting your job done.
Rafter: How can employees do that?
Hallamore: Employees can filter information based on two categories: a) those things you can control and; and b) those things you cannot. Focus on the first, and try to compartmentalize the rest somewhere where you only focus on those topics at times you are choosing to do so. It may seem odd, but in this way, you can exercise some control over when you are worrying about things beyond your control. The point is that one way or another there will be things occurring or rumored that are beyond your control
If you don’t make a conscious decision about dealing with these “uncontrollables”, they will seep in when you are doing your work, and become a big distraction, impacting on your confidence and ability to work. You also need be monitoring yourself and doing things that help you reduce stress. Even though work may be busier than ever, it will be important to take breaks and do things that help clear your mind and reduce your stress level.
There is a wide range of things that an employee can do, and what works will vary from person to person. The key is to not fall into the role of a victim by letting things beyond your control take over.