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5 Min Read

Navigating the Fallout: How HR Can Support Remaining Employees After a Layoff

Nicole Klemp

Going through layoffs or a reduction in force (RIF) can create a ripple effect through an organization, causing everything from a dip in morale to a spike in regrettable turnover. If not handled carefully, layoffs can transform a once-thriving culture into a toxic environment. 

MIT Sloan recently studied Glassdoor data to assess the impact of layoffs on surviving employees and company cultures. They found that the more often employees mentioned layoffs, outsourcing, or the possibility of getting fired in their reviews, the lower their company ranked on culture. 

When leading through difficult times, HR leaders must think differently, and find ways to pull opportunities out of challenges. Focusing on the needs and success of remaining employees can help organizations come out the other side of a RIF with a stronger, more resilient team.

Keep an eye on employee engagement metrics

Employees can become distracted and unmotivated during a major event like a workforce reduction. Increased workloads or constant changes in priorities also create a higher risk of burnout. Surviving employees who were previously engaged can become disengaged seemingly overnight.

Keeping an eye on these factors is critical in the aftermath of a layoff. Leaders and managers need to know the potential risks on their team and be able to take swift action to mitigate them. Measuring employee engagement is a great way to get the actionable insights to do just that.

A well-crafted, science-based engagement survey can reveal how a RIF has impacted your team, while simultaneously giving employees an outlet for confidentially sharing their feedback. People want to feel that their organization is listening, especially during challenging times.

Don’t take your foot off the DEI pedal

A study by Revelio Labs uncovered that at many companies that have recently had layoffs, DEI roles are diminishing faster than non-DEI roles. In the companies they looked at, over 300 DEI professionals have left their organizations, and some have lost their entire diversity teams. 

Going through a layoff or other major disruption in your organization couldn’t be a worse time to deprioritize your DEI initiatives. Ensuring a more inclusive environment for the employees who remain after a RIF is critical to maintaining high engagement, retention, and job performance. 

A DEI survey can help you measure the impact and shed light on how employees feel after layoffs on the team. This can be done in conjunction with the diversity metrics you’re already tracking. Audits to your existing programs and benefits can also help you ensure they remain fair and inclusive post layoff.

Check in with your high performers

The last thing most leaders want is to lose their high performers, especially when the company has already had to reduce its workforce. Unfortunately, the effect of layoffs can snowball and increase the risk of regrettable turnover.

When turnover increases, it makes it harder for team members to meet their goals and leaves HR scrambling to fill open positions. And when that turnover includes your best people—who are often also your culture warriors—it can be felt throughout the organization.

A Pew Research study found that 63% percent of employees who quit their job in 2021 cited “no opportunities for advancement” as a major factor in their decision to quit. After a RIF, high performers need to see that they still have a promising future with your organization and that there are exciting new challenges ahead. 

On top of engagement surveys and manager 1-on-1s, another good way to check in with remaining employees is through stay interviews. These interviews provide an opportunity to ask employees how satisfied they feel in their jobs, what’s going well with their work experience, and what roadblocks may be standing in their way. Talk to your top talent and find out how to best support them—before it’s too late.

Lead with resilience and compassion 

Instead of allowing frustrations to boil over after a layoff or other disruption, people leaders should approach employees with kindness and positive intent. HR leaders can also be instrumental in ensuring employees are aware of and have access to the resources they need to navigate challenging times.

Trying to brush away or minimize people’s feelings will not motivate your employees, and can even be harmful to their mental health. That being said, helping to build a resilient workforce can make future setbacks easier to overcome for all.

Resilient teams demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Optimism: Resilient teams use positivity to overcome obstacles and shift the label of failure from something negative to something helpful. 
  • Growth-oriented: Resilient organizations value a growth mindset and use learning and growth opportunities to motivate and inspire high performers.
  • High trust: When leaders share their feelings with employees it encourages more open communication and creates a more collaborative and engaging environment. 
  • Meaningful work: Inspiring employees by connecting their work to the company’s purpose creates a deep sense of belonging. Motivate your team by showing them their work is meaningful and valued. 

Get the HR guide to supporting employees after a RIF

15Five’s latest guide, Building Organizational Resilience: The HR Leaders’ Guide to Maintaining Engagement After a RIF or Layoff, outlines proven strategies, tactics, and actionable tips for supporting surviving employees and retaining high performers while building a stronger, more resilient culture.