Career and Executive Recruiting Advice
Survivor: Morale After Layoffs
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Continuing with our layoff considerations -- dealing with the survivors and the "why bother" syndrome.

You've made cuts and now have the key core staff. It took a while to come to the decision to make the changes. Feelings are still raw. Morale is down for many reasons. It's time to do some mending and cheerleading in order to get morale, productivity, and customer service back to normal levels.

Unfortunately, while the analysis and metrics evaluations processes were going on, like most managers, there was a lot of support for some of the personnel who were not very productive. No doubt in order to spur them on, even remote and negligible accomplishments were touted to the rest of the group. Those who were hard working and just generally "bustin' butt" didn't appreciate their Herculean efforts going unnoticed or unnoted. The only matters they saw were substandard performance that was deteriorating the company in many ways that was getting noticed, rewarded and sustained.

Although your "troublemakers" hung in there and stuck to their standards, no doubt they began to wonder why they bothered to attend to details, especially when it appeared it was not desired nor appreciated. If you weren't careful, you probably gave the impression that you actually wanted the substandard performance and didn't care about much better than average. You gave the impression that redundancy because of carelessness, slipshod work and workhabits, and just outright mistakes was completely acceptable.

Now that those who were not as consciencious have been outplaced, you still have the stars on your team -- sort of. These folks are not softies by any stretch and do not need coddling. But it is now time to let them know in definitive ways (and not just, "Well, I kept you on staff, didn't I?") that their conscienciousness and attention to detail, their determination to be precise and professional is indeed appreciated and just what the doctor ordered for them, for you, for your company.

The cuts were made for financial reasons. There were probably reclassifications of job assignments so that the remaining core staff now has more work responsibilities in several areas. So pay increases are not necessarily the answer for saying, "Good job. Thanks." The other side of this formula is that money does very little for being an incentive for performance. In fact, at this point in time, your people probably feel as though any increase in salary at all is what they earned and deserved long ago. They'll say to your face, "Gee thanks." They'll think to themselves, "So what? It's about time."

There are other ways to reward and rebuild morale.

Communication, Communication, Communication
Many theorists, human resource experts and change agents recommend good communication at this time. Be clear about what has happened and why, where the company stands and your people in it. Listen to them and take in the suggestions for improvements. Be courteous to these people. They have been your rock. Why should they stick around if you verbally batter them?

Development Opportunities
If you've been listening to your people, over time you heard their comments about things they'd like to do such as continuing education classes, attendance at conferences, assignment to a special project, the green light for interfacing with a plum client (or potential client) that has all the indicators of a lucrative alliance, time off for a special occasion. Yes, these have price tags attached to them. This means you'll need to be extremely careful about your development opportunities. Be clear and honest with your essential business assets. Let them know if there's budget to make these allowances or not. If not, move on to some other types of incentives. Okay, okay. So these incentives are not depression economy feasible.

Another incentive that's bound to get people to feel good about you and where they work is to praise the heavens (legitimately) to everyone about what a great job they've done. In this case, don't just give a general "... and Sam did a great job for us over these past six months ...." Tell folks what Sam did. Quantify what the accomplishments were, where you can, so that others have some idea of what was done and how much. That will give them some idea about what they have done or can do to get the same type of limelight and praise.

Recorded Merits
And make certain that a notation of these special accomplishments gets included in the personnel records. That way, if you should ever need to remember and are called upon to do so, your most valued employee's future employer will get the right information from you during the reference check.

But why should you want to let your stars/troublemakers get away from you? Why bother? Because they're your foundation for success.

Originally published on November 21, 2001
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