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Friday, February 6, 2009

Downsizing: 7 Steps to Help Employees

Downsizing: 7 Steps to Help Employees

The November 2008 U.S. job loss report was staggering. More than 500,000 jobs shed in one month, the worst one-month job loss since December 1974. That brings the 2008 job loss total to 1.9 million. And according to a New York Times report on the job loss situation, deeper cuts will probably happen in 2009.

The HR department isn't always involved in making the decision to downsize; however, HR is in the driver's seat when it comes to orchestrating a smooth transition for everyone who's affected. And although you may not make the layoff announcement, there are many things to consider as you prepare to deal with the anger, grief, and stress often associated with downsizing.

Emotionally prepare yourself. Recognize the fact that you may grieve along with the employees. Part of this step means getting ready for the psychological effect the layoff will have on everyone, including the "survivors." Employees who are left behind are often sad and anxious because they have lost friends and are concerned about their own job security. Some feel guilty that they are still with the organization when others are gone. In addition, they will be required to do more with less, a challenge that may initially seem impossible.

Prepare for the downsizing announcement. You may not actually make it, but you will be asked to explain to the employees what to expect. Always focus on layoffs with respect and dignity. Write down what you plan to say in describing your roll in assisting the employees who will lose their jobs. Then practice out loud until you feel confident. Expect anger and sadness in response to your message. The more prepared you are, the easier your job will be, and the more helpful you can be to the employees.

Consider how you can help. In-house outplacement services can assist those who must find other work. Find out what is available in your community to meet the needs of the unemployed. Be empathetic and willing to go the extra mile in helping your laid-off population. Keep in mind that your "survivors" are watching you and the way you handle those who are leaving.

Minimize the effect of downsizing. Do whatever it takes to win back the trust and commitment of your remaining employees. Show the "survivors" how to be change-resilient; it's essential to overcoming the obstacles. Define exactly what is changing and what isn't. It's not uncommon for your "survivors" to believe that everything is changing when, in reality, most everything is staying the same. You need the "survivors" on your side more than ever now that you are, in many cases, short-staffed.

Communicate early and often. Honesty should play a major role in everything you do and say. These are the people you depend on to keep you in business. Tell them what you know and what you can share. If you aren't allowed to tell them some of what you know, try to explain why.

Be accessible to those who are left. As busy as you are, if employees feel they can't get your attention, you are in trouble. Commit to returning e-mails and phone calls, and make sure employees know when that will happen. During the time of uncertainty, the more accessible you are, the easier it will be for everyone to adjust to the changes.

Be a cheerleader. HR has a major responsibility in redesigning, training, and employee engagement, especially after a major layoff. Employees are looking to HR for guidance in filling in the gaps and getting the right people in place to do so while managing the social pressures that are inevitable with layoffs. Remain positive, set goals, and help others who are struggling with what they are being asked to do.

About the Author: Carol Hacker is an HR consultant and seminar leader who ranks among the experts in the field of recruiting and retention issues. She's the author of 13 highly acclaimed business books. Carol can be reached at (770) 410-0517 or

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