Executive Coaching Articles

Layoffs and Downsizing: How to Help Surviving Employees

With the wake of layoffs and downsizing, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the surviving employees. They are turning into refugees, mourning lost colleagues as they wait themselves for the final curtain to close on this chapter in their working career. One client recently told me, “I’ve been struggling a lot these days in the aftermath of recent deep layoffs. Even though I’m still here collecting a pretty amazing salary, I can’t help but feel alone without the friendship and support of my closest peers.”

So how can you thrive when others are being laid off? When downsizing occurs at your company, what can you do?

I remember when we had one of the worst fires in Northern California and an entire neighborhood was completely demolished with only one house left standing. Did the owners of that house find themselves lucky to live in area without neighbors for many years?

Of course not. The point is when it comes to dealing with stress related to any transitional experience, no matter how traumatic or temporary, we all must go through a grieving period that comes as a result of losing close friends, co-workers and even managers who believed in us and championed our success. While doing that, we can also shift our thinking into seeing this experience as an opportunity to implement positive change. For example, designing and publicizing a good succession plan can show remaining employees that they have an opportunity for long-term growth with the company.

The key to coping with these casualties is to cultivate new friendships and learn to realize we can generate the same success we had before, but it might take time. However, the time it takes to build new relationships to sustain your positive energy can be greatly reduced by following my five steps for improving your relationships with co-workers from my Love Your Work Workbook:

  1. Become A Workplace Survivor By Accepting and Seeing All Your Co-Workers For Who They Are Just like the overwhelmingly popular television series Survivor, your ability to “work and play well” with others during any downsizing period is even more critical. If the reduced staff size finds you interacting even more with a difficult coworker, try to remain focused on the positives of that individual rather than the negative ones. To accomplish this necessity may require you to step back from your agenda and viewpoints and look at them with new eyes and developing strategies to accept their individual imperfections and shortcomings as well as their strengths and talents.
  2. When Communicating, Be Fully Present For Them & Listen Without Judging Think of your last interaction with a particular coworker. Did you give him or her 100% of your attention? To maintain your attention span at the optimum level, clearly eliminate all distractions to focus on that person one on one. Avoid having conversations while working or speaking on the phone with someone else. Listen to their point of view and respect their opinions. Don’t immediately jump in with a judgment call or your solution. Become a better listener and always encourage others to express themselves.
  3. Establish Common Ground By Treating Your Coworkers As Equals Again, think back on a recent interaction with a coworker. Did you consider yourself superior? If so, put aside all preconceived notions. Your co-workers have thoughts, feelings, wants and needs just like you do. Treat them with respect and put your ego on equal footing. How could your last interaction (and your next) be improved?
  4. Discover Ways To Understand Who They Are, What They Think & Feel, And Why They Behave The Way They Do When dealing with overly critical co-workers, clients, supervisors or any other “nay-sayer”, take the time and effort to step into his (or her) moccasins and view things from their perspective instead of yours. Remember a time in your life when you experienced similar events/feelings. Keeping all that information in mind, construct strategies to help you understand who they are, what they think and feel and why they behave like they do even better. When all else fails, politely remind yourself of the wise words of Frank A. Clark, “Lots of faults we think we see in others are simply the ones we expect to find there because we have them.”
  5. Remember A Person Who Reached Out To You Think back to a time in your life when a coworker reached out to you by making a distinct effort to get to know you better. Remember who that person was and how good it felt that they took the time to reach out to you. How you can you do the same now for someone else?

If you still don’t think you can accomplish any of this, I encourage you to choose one person to start with. Offer to buy them lunch or go for a walk to gradually get to know them better. After the initial encounter make a concentrated effort to spend time making the relationship more meaningful. This will help you thrive when downsizing or layoffs begin to occur. Every ally you acquire during this difficult process is another step towards developing a support network to replace the one that you lost due to recent “casualties of work.” I’ll leave you with one anonymous parting thought:

“Friends in your life are like pillars on a porch. Sometimes they hold you up and sometimes they lean on you. Sometimes it’s just enough to know they’re standing by.”