Downsize With Dignity: HR Policies to Help Layoff Survivors Thrive

by | Jul 13, 2011 | Blog, HR Policies

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

Your company has successfully downsized with dignity. Now what?

You followed all the proper steps of firing someone the right way, but tensions are still high around the office. Often times, leaders tend to initially focus more attention on those who are leaving.

The most important people in a layoff are forgotten: the survivors.

What Is The Impact of Layoff  Survivors?

Layoff survivors are responsible for keeping your company afloat during a very stressful time. The survivors are often expected to do more work with fewer resources.

In addition to the extra stressed caused by increased work flow, employees have to deal with survivor’s guilt (a symptom of layoff-survivor sickness).

The underlying cause of layoff-survivor sickness is a pervasive sense of personal violation. The feelings and emotions often include:

  • Fear, insecurity and uncertainty.
  • Frustration, resentment and anger.
  • Sadness, depression and guilt.
  • Unfairness, betrayal and distrust.

Layoff survivor sickness can greatly impact personal and organization performance, crippling a company at the precise time the company needs to rely on its workforce to rebuild a new business.

The intense stress felt by layoff-survivors can last four to six months, resulting in increased absenteeism and higher turnover. At some companies, the more people laid off, the higher rates of quitting they sustained. And that is not good.

That is exactly why companies need to pay attention to their layoff survivors.

What Can The Company Do To Help Layoff Survivors?

The best way to maintain employees in order to avoid a large turnover after is to implement practices that give employees a sense that the company is just and fair. Practices that foster “job attachment” include:

Having these policies in order before a large turnover will help layoff survivors cope.  Now, if you are in the middle of a layoff or just finished one, there are steps you can take to help the layoff survivors in that moment.

  • COMMUNICATE: We may be repeating our other blogs, but honesty is the best policy. Tell your employees the truth about the state of the business and seek advice. Ways to keep the line of communication include: frequent information meetings; informal “chats” by top managers via video conferences, email, or in person; HR professional on site to answer questions and give advice; blogs written by the chief executive editor. The CEOs of companies such as Marriott International, Pitney Bowes and Sun Microsystems all wrote blogs during a difficult time at their company to help foster a since of community. Need tips on blog writing? Just ask us!
  • LISTEN: Communication is a two-way street. The supervisor needs to not only talk about the problem, but listen to the employees to find the solution. Adopt a “helping” relationship. Listen and respond to employees in an empathetic, not a policy-justification, manner. Some companies offer on-site counseling from an employee assistance program for two weeks after a layoff.  Managers need to be trained in basic listening, empathy and reflective skills. Employers need to find ways to help their employees externalize their survivor feelings so they can move forward into productivity.
  • MOTIVATE: Make a special effort to retain your best performers. Review the practices above to foster “job attachment.” Read our previous blog on how to motivate top employees. Through your respectful layoff process, show layoff survivors that the dismissed employees are treated well. Also, give survivors a reason to stay. Lay out a specific plan and timeline to show employees what’s coming next and how the company plans to improve. Organizations with high employee engagement have the highest level of trust in leadership and are likely to be more resilient when it comes to handling changes.

Layoffs are tough for everyone in the company. The employees let go are not the only victims. If the company ignores the layoff survivors, they are setting themselves up for failure. Follow our steps to help your layoff survivors cope with the change so that your company can maintain (or even increase) productivity.

At Integrity HR, our professionals are trained to handle a crisis such as layoffs.  If your company is going through a rough time and needs our assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are always ready and willing to help!

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