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Frontline Supervisor: Dealing with Layoffs

Frontline Supervisor: Dealing with Layoffs

On 3 Oct 2017, in Management, Downsizing, Workplace

Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.

Q. My organization will lose nearly 15 percent of its employees in a planned downsizing this year. Should I anticipate that productivity will be negatively affected, and if so, is there anything I can do about it? Will employees simply not care about productivity this year?

A. Anger and anxiety will play powerful roles and may affect some employees’ productivity as they seek to cope with the uncertainty of downsizing. Many supervisors assume that all employees will suffer a lack of productivity when downsizing looms and anxiety grows, but this is not necessarily the case. Productivity may increase for some employees. These will tend to be employees who have a high level of insecurity about their positions but who also have a high need to work. In other words, those who can afford to lose their jobs the least may demonstrate more productivity than usual. On the other hand, downsizing anxiety may adversely affect the productivity of employees who have a low need to work. Offering support and effectively planning communication as downsizing is implemented is important for both groups, regardless of anticipated productivity levels, because the personal reaction of each employee cannot be predicted or generalized to a larger group.

Q. My company has experienced some severe layoffs this year. Although my job is safe, I think it is starting to “get to me.” My symptoms include a lot of guilt and some sleep difficulties. The organization handled everything well, so am I too sensitive?

A. Although your organization has done a good job in managing a layoff plan, it is not unusual for surviving employees, including supervisors, to experience grief, anxiety, depression and other symptoms as a result of witnessing others lose their jobs. Employees who are adversely affected by layoffs but retain their jobs may experience “layoff survivor syndrome” and are sometimes referred to as the “walking wounded” by transition management experts. BJC EAP can play a critical role in supporting employees and surviving coworkers. If your workplace is characterized by close relationships among employees and is a place where personal connections and “family culture” are exhibited, this syndrome can be strongly felt. Seek support for these confusing but normal stress symptoms.

Q. My employee’s position will soon be cut because of the budget. The employee is a recovering drug user of less than a month. This is the worst time, I know. If relapse occurs, whose fault is it? Things are going so well with this employee now.

A. Almost entirely, relapses are decisions to discontinue abstaining from substance use. They almost always include a failure to participate in recommended tasks or activities that can thwart relapse -- or conversely, a failure to avoid activities and tasks that provoke it. No matter the stressful circumstances faced by your employee, even if terminated from a job suddenly, relapse or successful avoidance of it is his or her responsibility. Many tools, tips and strategies exist to help recovering persons under stress to avoid relapse. It is appropriate to speak to BJC EAP about your concern. You will then need to let go of this worry, because the potential relapse simply is not within your ability to prevent.

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