How Many Remaining Employees Will Jump Ship Following a RIF?

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Career Partners International – Winston Salem / Williams, Roberts, Young, Inc.

The bad financial results in your organization have been indicating the need for downsizing for quite a while, and now you’ve gone ahead and done it.  All of the weeks and months of planning and agonizing over executing a Reduction In Force (RIF) are over.  You’ve taken a deep breath and started to relax only to learn that a number of very key employees and not so key employees have just handed in their resignations.  Their reasons?  “I’m getting out while I can!” “There’s been little to no communication with the ‘survivors’ over dealing with everyone’s loss and how to cope with the ever increasing workload.” And worst of all, “This downsizing was executed carelessly, without concern for anyone’s feelings, and with way too many political overtones.” 

So the question is:  How can we avoid having to clean up our own mess once our remaining employees see other options becoming available to them?

  1. Talk with the experts.  Talk with companies who have done this before and get their common sense advice – learn from their mistakes, not your own.  Talk with and work with reputable outplacement firms.  They can give you options that best fit your business environment, degree and scope of urgency, and company culture.  Outplacement firms can also provide training to help managers assess the emotional state of their remaining employees, teach them effective ways to lead their employees through these changes, and help managers adopt an attitude of “catching, recognizing and rewarding employees for doing well.”  Also remember, cheap may get you in trouble.  This is most assuredly a time when you “get what you pay for.”
  2. Take a hint from Joan Rivers (Can we talk?). Develop a communication strategy with your remaining employees.  Be consistent, honest, and thank them ahead of time for the increased workloads this will mean for them. Continue to show your appreciation in ways that are creative and sincere, but also budget-minded. Communicate early and often.  Managers should not assume that because there is no new information, there is no reason to meet with employees.  Employees will assume there is more bad news coming if they aren’t hearing anything. They will make things up that are many times worse than any reasonable scenario. Keeping a dialog going is critical to restoring trust with survivors.
  3. Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Survival guilt is a legitimate emotion. Talk about it and get it in the open. Understand that people deal with change and loss in different ways, so pay attention and track the emotional stages that your staff members are experiencing.  It’s an emotional roller coaster. Encourage managers to assess, by individual employee, who is on an upswing, downswing, making progress over the long term, or is just plain stuck.
  4. Don’t overreact to a productivity hit. If your RIF was very recent, realize and adapt to the likelihood that there will be an initial drop in productivity. However, if the RIF is dealt with openly and honestly, productivity will eventually rebound, and in some cases may exceed previous levels.
  5. Evaluate your career management culture.  Now more than ever, employees need the reassurance that they are part of the company’s future vision. If they see HR and management as being proactive in helping them to achieve future aspirations, they’re more likely to tough it out with you. Be honest in discussing extra duties or additional workload that employees might have to assume while the company recovers. If at all possible, avoid eliminating training plans that are pertinent to employee and career development. Consider other approaches, such as e-learning, that may allow training to continue at a lower cost per student. Perhaps key employees can be tapped to locate and evaluate other options that may make it more affordable for employee and career development to continue at the same or an improved pace.

Engage, engage, engage.

Getting employees to engage – to discuss concerns openly and to begin to believe that there is a future for them and the company is key. Keep them informed of positive improvements in company financials and productivity. Do everything you can to portray them as much-appreciated contributors to the successes. Most importantly, help them begin to paint a better, but also realistic, picture about their futures with the company. Each week, you may want to ask, “What can I do to get this star performer on-track with a self-fulfilling prophecy that is good for both of us?”

Categories: Transition; Engage; Change Management; Retention Strategies

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