We saw more doom and gloom this week as large companies like Caterpillar Inc., Microsoft, Sprint, and Pfizer announced thousands of layoffs. In the midst of this news I was contacted by a friend who got laid off that very day. My friend worked for the company she was let go from for fourteen years, and during that time her efforts were rewarded with promotions and raises along the way. These promotions are what ended up being her handicap. Newer less experienced employees were spared the layoffs while my friend and her long term associates were let go. This, of course, left a bitter taste in her mouth, not only did she feel unappreciated and betrayed but she was also confused. I know that I was only hearing one side of the story, and maybe the company had other reasons for the layoffs, but in the eyes of the employees the company let go of the higher paid salaries to cut costs, and opted for less experience at a decreased expense to keep day to day operations going. This is not the first company to do this and it certainly won’t be the last. When I finished speaking with my friend I started thinking about how the remaining employees must be feeling and what the company would need to do to optimize their performance given recent events.
Coworkers form bonds. This shouldn’t be surprising given the amount of time they spend together every week. When the company has to or chooses to do layoffs the employees that are left at the company feel a loss, coupled with feelings of loss are feelings of guilt because they didn’t lose their job. On top of these feelings the employees in this particular situation may be left with discouraged attitudes about the company and a resentment that hinders progress. This resentment sprouts from the fact that the experienced people were let go, so why would the remaining employees work to do better, get the promotions, and the raises, if they think they will be the first to go when the company feels a crunch? They won’t. In an economy where fear about job security and the unemployment rate is increasing on a more frequent basis employees are going to be worried about keeping their jobs and staying under the radar to avoid any up and coming layoffs. None of this is good for the company or the employees, especially the employees that have a natural will to succeed and in turn be a part of the company’s success.
If the organization is focused on improving the situation and the morale of the remaining employees there are some steps that managers can take to do so. One of their best assets will be the employees that are still with the organization that carry a positive attitude and a drive to get the company back to a successful state. Managers should be familiar enough with their workforce to assess who these people are and utilize them as leaders in the transition. Have you heard the statement “employees will treat consumers with the same attitude that their manager treats them with”? This can be utilized in this situation. The more positive management is the more positive the employees will be. Management can use this to celebrate small successes to increase morale. Along with increased optimism employees will look to management to communicate with them. Communication will ease their fears that they are next in line to be let go. Management should share plans for the future and ways in which the group will need to get more done with less resources. Management can also convey that they are all in the same boat and if they are going to stay afloat they will have to do it together. Using careful judgment about what to relay to employees is important. If management says that there won’t be any additional layoffs, but then has to layoff additional employees it will be difficult to regain the trust of those that are left.
While it may be useful for management to implement these tactics after layoffs happen I am in no way agreeing with the concept of getting rid of higher salaried employees for the pure reason that they are the most expensive to keep. I also wouldn’t suggest using these tactics if executives are showing up to the office with new Range Rovers or attending weekend getaways at the company’s expense. Employees are smart enough to see through managements words when compared with their actions.
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