In a recent #SmartTalkHR webinar, Building Resiliency with Surviving Employees After a Layoff, I discussed change, transition and resilience during times of corporate downsizing and restructuring events. Although organizations are doing more to support the employees directly impacted by layoffs, many are still not doing enough to support those employees who remain, the survivors.

Before we can begin to talk about specific strategies for moving remaining employees from anger and despair to optimism, productivity and well-being, we need to understand how change affects people who continue to work within the organization. In a recent blog, I reviewed the psychology of change and the five stages of transition to help HR leaders understand the different ways people react to change.

Now that you know why and how layoffs and restructuring events can negatively impact productivity and the employer brand, I’d like to offer some strategies for taking care of remaining employees, including:

  • Remaining present and accessible
  • Adopting an attitude of empathy
  • Proactively communicating
  • Creating short-term goals for teams and individuals
  • Building resilience in the long-term

Be available and show empathy

Immediately following a reduction, there are some key things that you as a leader can do.  First, and most importantly, don’t disappear. It’s easy to have your own visceral reaction as a leader and you don’t want to simply bury yourself in the work and mindlessly move forward and disappear into your office. While it sounds like obvious advice, it’s a normal tendency and one most organizations need to intentionally fight against.

In fact, HR leaders and company executives need to be more visible than ever after a reduction in force. Plan to spend lots of one-on-one time with your team members and, as much as you can, ease fears of further, immediate, change. If there is more change planned, don’t lie, but be present and empathetic.

Acknowledge your own feelings and take care of yourself, but make the effort to really listen and use empathy to understand what individuals are experiencing. Remember, the experience will be different for each person, as I discussed in the first part of the webinar. Each remaining employee’s reaction will differ depending partly on that individual’s internal resilience, or possibly on that person’s relationship with someone who has been laid off.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Even if you think your company and your department have an excellent level of communication with employees, plan to communicate more. Clear, transparent communication that provides detail will help people understand why the change happened, and most importantly, what the plan is for moving forward. Plan communications to create a shared vision of a positive future for the company, in general, but more specifically, let people know what their role is in the positive future – how each person is valued and can contribute.

Provide every manager within the organization with the messaging and training that will help them to meet individually with the remaining employees to discuss the broader organizational vision, the role they have to play in that vision, and tying their day-to-day efforts and their individual goals to those overall goals.

But, don’t stop there. Communicating regularly with your team transparently and being very available is the hallmark of a good leader. As you set the tone and example for your organization and the people in it, individuals will start to see the benefits and will begin being more resilient. Communication, transparency and availability will start your organization on the road to greater resilience, productivity, and individual job satisfaction.

Mindfulness and positivity

There have been numerous studies that show the benefits of mindfulness, but recently, there have been a number of studies that specifically point to how mindfulness can build resilience in individuals. Most importantly for resilience, is the fact that mindfulness increases positive emotions and reduces negative emotions and stress. After all, it’s much easier to be resilient when you’re feeling positive and you don’t have a lot of unwanted stress.

The best way to encourage mindfulness is to practice it yourself. Start doing five minutes of mindfulness meditation on a daily basis and then share your experiences with your team members. Be an inspiration to those around you by practicing the positivity and connectedness you are hoping to get from them. In this case, leading by example really does work.

Take the time to focus your attention before reacting to a situation.

  1. Breathe in for five seconds
  2. Hold your breath for five seconds
  3. Breathe out for five seconds
  4. Repeat three times

Each time you do this, you’ll be demonstrating to your team members that you are taking the time to focus and consider your reactions. After you’ve done this exercise on a regular basis, you’ll train yourself to take in emotions, take in the situation, feel the emotion, and pause before you react. Encourage your team members to do the same and when there is a stressful situation, they will already know how to manage their immediate emotions and will be building internal resilience. If possible, bring in a consultant to conduct an organizational-wide mindfulness and positivity training.

Learn gratitude

Putting things in perspective helps to build resilience and leads us to change how we perceive a situation, and how we react to it. Engaging in an exercise of gratitude can really help with building resiliency over time.

Keep the notebook close and try this exercise every morning for 10 days:

  1. Write down something you’re thankful for
  2. Take note of how you feel after writing that down
  3. Be aware of how you react to stress and change over time

Once you start a practice of gratitude, bring it back to your team. If you have regular one on one meetings with your team members, build some gratitude into those meetings. To make gratitude a comfortable and natural part of your meeting, ask team members to share one thing that went really well in the past week. It can be personal, or it can be personal wins at work. The more human we can be, the more we can build resilience in our teams. Ultimately, if you want to begin a culture of resilience and gratitude, start by sharing your wins and show your team you embrace positivity through your actions and your influence.

Build trust

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of leading by example – your actions have a huge impact on your employees. It’s something to be mindful of and to remind yourself of daily, especially when things get crazy and you’re stressed. It’s important, especially during the most stressful times, to make sure you’re setting the right example in terms of positivity and engagement at work, as well as personally. To make sure you’re setting the right example and encouraging your team members to follow your lead, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you taking time for yourself?
  • Are you giving your team members time to take care of themselves?
  • Can you host a walking meeting?
  • Can you encourage folks to get outside and get some fresh air?
  • Can you give people a five-minute mindfulness break?

A leader who is able to do these things will be able to build trust. Do what you say you’re going to do, be accountable, and show your team members through example that you can be resilient in the face of major changes.

Build trust through stronger relationships. Be sure you show individuals that you care about them as a person, and not just as a source of work. Take time to ask questions to show you care. Ask about their weekends, how they spent their vacations, and listen to their stories. Caring about workers as actual people goes a long way to cultivating critical trust that builds resiliency. Use team meetings to have individuals share something about what is going on with them at the time. Encourage people to be themselves at work and give them a sense of purpose and belonging.

Show people you trust them by sharing the big picture goals of the company and the vision of how you’re going to get there, together. Autonomy is one of the top things that rank highly on engagement surveys. People want to feel in control. Allow and encourage autonomy and foster teamwork to build trust and resilience.

Share a vision of the future

Even in times of reduction, talk about career development with your remaining employees. Now is not the time to stop growing your existing workforce. Find out the career passions of your team members and then find ways you can support them in that. Even if you don’t know exactly what the end goal is, have career conversations that show you’re interested and want to help employees grow professionally and personally.

The data shows that people leave organizations because of lack of career development, aside from poor management. If providing growth opportunities isn’t a top priority in your organization, I highly recommend that it become one. Professional growth programs can be formal or informal and include things like mentorship, coaching (either group or one-on-one), or other skills training sessions. Starting a career building initiative can make a high impact and help people start thinking more broadly about their careers while building resiliency.

Once you understand resiliency and know a few techniques and strategies that help build engagement and resiliency in your organization, what will you try to do differently today or tomorrow? Starting now will prepare your teams and managers with the tools they’ll need to withstand the next big organizational change. Waiting until you’re faced with a large downsizing or restructuring event is late, but it’s never too late to consider the impact of change on employees. To get the whole picture, you can view the webinar in its entirety here.