After the Layoff – Motivating and Retaining Your Team

Layoffs are meant to help your company, but often, the loss of morale leads to a lingering malaise among remaining employees. They’ve just seen good people dismissed. They may not feel valued. They may not trust you.

Hopefully, you conducted your layoff the right way, treating all team members with care and respect. Ideally, your senior leadership was the first to deliver the hard news and not the company rumor mill. If so, then your job of motivating and retaining your team will be much easier.

But if your layoff process resulted in an environment of distrust, where employees felt betrayed and dehumanized, you’ve got an uphill battle. Layoffs bruise team spirit. It’s your job to build back the trust you’ve lost so your people can believe in your company again.

Have the talk

If it wasn’t part of the layoff process already, sit down with small groups of your retained employees and explain what circumstances and choices contributed to making the layoff a necessary step. Discuss what the short-term outlook will be, as well as your long-term plans. And, give them the chance to tell you how they feel about what has happened. Most importantly, explain how you will support them during the changes ahead and ease the burden of additional duties as much as possible. Approach this discussion with transparency and humility, because you’ve got a lot of trust to win back, not to mention loyalty.

Embrace hidden opportunities

One of the first things to do after a layoff is to reallocate the responsibilities of departed employees to the remaining ones. But before you dole out tasks, take stock of your team. Schedule meetings with each person individually and find out what type of work they might like to move into and which of those available responsibilities they might even be excited about. Additional duties can be a powerful motivating force, but they can also be a short-term win that later results in burnout. Match the duties (as best you can) to your employees’ skills and interests to open the door to engagement and innovation.

Keep a running dialogue

Overworking your remaining staff is a very real danger. Worst case, they suffer in silence for as long as they can, feel angry, underappreciated, and undercompensated, and then gripe to their colleagues, becoming increasingly irritable and far less productive. This can be avoided by opening the dialogue at the beginning by saying, “If these additional responsibilities feel like too much at any time, let’s talk and see how we can make the load more manageable.” Typically, the bulk of the work goes to the employees who have proven most capable, and these are the people you really want to keep happy.

Recognize contributions

Motivation is tightly bound with recognition, but after a layoff, you may not have a budget to spend on financial rewards. Use what you do have: you. Recognition comes in many forms and can be as simple as mentioning that you’ve noticed the employee going above and beyond or performing a certain task particularly well. Let them know that you’ve noticed.

Invest more time in them as you ask them to invest more time in you

You’re asking them to take on more responsibility – they should see you doing the same. Check in more often one-on-one. Keep tabs on how everyone is doing, not just what they’re doing. And, use these chats to learn about your employees’ real motivations, the ones that get them out of bed each morning, into their cars, and into your office. What do they care about most? What are they passionate about? Is there a way you can help them achieve their outside-of-office dreams? This shows your team that you genuinely care about them as people, not just as widget-makers chained to your bottom line.

In many ways, you’re building your team from the ground up. You need to build trust and goodwill, show recognition, and match tasks with talents. But even if you do everything right, you may still not be able to eliminate the pain and disappointment your staff feels. Honesty and transparency will go a long way toward healing, but what they really need is time.


Slate Advisers is an outplacement services firm that partners with companies to accelerate employee transitions and support a smoother departure, protecting the company's employment brand and morale. We tailor career transition services to the needs of each individual, matching each person with a team of experts to help them figure out what they want to do next and position them to find a job faster. Our clients range from venture-backed startups to the Fortune 1000.


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