Let’s assume that you have considered all the alternatives, made all the adjustments possible and you are still faced with having to lay off employees in order to survive the crisis. How you treat your employees, manage and implement this decision will have a significant impact on your organizational culture and your ability to recover after the crisis. Research shows that in order to avoid a cycle of decline, minimize damage and ensure longer term success depends on three things:

1)     Fair and legitimate decision-making criterion

2)     Fair and transparent process to implement the decision

3)     How employees are communicated to, supported and treated throughout the process

If employees perceive fairness in these areas, their willingness to remain, engage and work towards new goals is significantly enhanced.

After a crisis or layoffs remaining employees will go through a range of emotions. Employee reactions will differ by individual and your empathy at each phase is essential. Consider the following:

Shock Phase

Employees faced with a major crisis will experience a range of emotions that will mirror the grieving process – shock, anger, disbelief and confusion. These are all perfectly normal and will dissipate over time. Employees will have an insatiable need for information, communication and clarity – especially related to any decision’s leaders are making.

As a leader, the more you can clarify how you came to a decision, alternatives you implemented, the process you will use to help employees and leavers to cope – the quicker your organization will recover.

Coping Phase

Beyond the initial shock phase, employees will begin to feel anxious, powerless and a sense of loss. Employees will have a need for connection with others, share experiences, a way to voice concerns and get questions answered. Empower employees to be part of moving the company forward – leverage their ideas and insights.

As a leader, your role is to continue to communicate (even if you don’t have the answers), ensure employees have a voice – allowing two-way communication and provide avenues for emotional and team support.

Refocus Phase

After a crisis or when layoffs have been implemented, employees are often faced with more work, unclear expectations and ongoing insecurity. Employees will feel overwhelmed, may resist change and even appear hostile. Employees are most in need of guidance, direction and a clear path forward. They need to know the layoffs that were made were justified and provide a solid new pathway to success.

As a leader, your role is to share a clear vision forward, new goals and begin to recognize progress and early wins.

As we pass through this pandemic and manage challenging decisions like layoffs, it is important to know that you cannot rush your employees to the refocus phase. Your employees will need to process their emotions. Successful organizations and leaders are those willing to spend time communicating, coaching managers, sharing experiences, providing support and giving your employees a voice. Take care of your employees and they will take care of the business.