The pink slip parade is getting longer and longer. A CBS graph of layoffs in U.S. companies makes it clear that people are being put out of work at an alarming rate. We should be very concerned about what will happen to these newly unemployed workers and their families. However, we should also be concerned about the survivors. These are the employees who must deal with guilt over still being on the job after watching their friends escorted out the door, who fear that they will be next, and who are frustrated with trying to do the work of two or three people while receiving compensation for less than one person. At the same time, companies desperately need these surviving employees to be engaged, motivated workers who will help the company remain viable during the recession and position the company well when the economy turns around.

Advice for conducting layoffs and helping survivors so that they are engaged and motivated is quite abundant these days. Some experts talk about how to restore morale (See bnet.). These writers offer good suggestions, but I question the leap to restoring morale when many of these companies never had high morale in the first place. Maybe if they had a great workplace, they wouldn’t have to be implementing mass layoffs, at least not at the current levels.

Some experts talk about how to lay-off people. For example, Kawasaki offers his list of the right things to do. He advises CEOs to be visible to survivors and connect with them so that they have confidence the company will weather the poor economy. Still other experts talk about how to keep employees engaged in their work during a period of layoffs. Some talk about holding feel-good events.

All of these suggestions are helpful, but I believe the best way to keep morale up and keep surviving employees engaged in their work after layoffs is to keep employees informed about the issues in the company long before layoffs. As I wrote in a previous blog post:

… I think “communication” is the most important. Keep employees informed whether they request the information or not. In difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to push the information out and make sure that everyone in the organization hears the messages. Keeping open lines of communication is good, but don’t wait for questions and concerns; anticipate what employees want to know and get that information to them. And listen, listen, listen. Offer opportunities for individuals and small groups to express their worries and concerns even if there is nothing that can be said at the moment to allay their fears. Tell them what you know about the situation, acknowledge their strong feelings, and show respect for their views. This will go a long way toward building trust and increasing the level of employee engagement.

Don’t wait for a crisis; communicate now. This will make layoffs a little easier on the employees who are leaving and will give survivors a sense of control over their lives. Nothing is more unsettling to employees than not knowing and feeling helpless and vulnerable in the wake of change.

What are you doing to support the survivors in your organization? What suggestions would you give others for helping survivors continue to be productive contributors to the organization?

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