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Leadership IQ’s Murphy: De-stress layoff survivors

Leadership IQ’s Murphy: De-stress layoff survivors

The hospitality industry had 115 layoff actions in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s at least 50 people per action, or 5,750 people, who lost their jobs. While terminating dozens of employees at once is difficult, the hard work is not over, said Mark Murphy, founder and chairman of Leadership IQ, a Washington D.C.-based research and training firm. Keeping the remaining employees engaged is critical to helping a company return to or maintain profitability, he said. According to a recent Leadership IQ survey of 4,172 workers from 312 companies who remained employed following a corporate layoff, 64 percent said the productivity of their colleagues had declined, 81 percent said their customer service had also declined, and 77 percent said they saw more errors and mistakes being made. Guilt, anxiety and anger were the most common words employees used to describe how they felt about the layoffs. Murphy calls this “layoff survivor stress.”

What can an employer do to relieve employees of some of their survivor stress?

Employees will ask, is this it? Are there going to be more? What do you tell them? If things pick up, no. If things slow down further, yes, there may be. What you should say is the truth: I don’t know. But go a step further: “I don’t know, but let me share with you what we are thinking about this. Here’s what we’re looking for, here’s what the cash is like, here’s the metrics we’re looking for.” Share your thought process. When leaders do that, employees are deeply appreciative. The big thing is not to duck the issues. Let them talk about it. Add 15 minutes to a staff meeting; that’s hugely effective in keeping folks engaged and focused on the right issues and showing you are not afraid to talk about this.

But what if an employer can’t tell employees what they want to hear?

Basically, the issue is to share what you can share. If there is something you can’t share, do not retreat back into your office and become uncommunicative. The situation calls for high-engagement leadership. There is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to talking to employees about a layoff.

When the news is bad and the future uncertain, how can employers keep people feeling positive?

Keep conversations focused on things we can control. We can’t control the stock market or the housing market, but we can control how we serve these two customers who just sat down.

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