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A Communication Guide for Those Left Behind

Connecting with your team in the aftermath of layoffs

Your company just went through layoffs, and you’re part of the group of fortunate employees who weren’t let go. Great…right? Or not so great because, despite still having a job, you’re left with a feeling of anxiousness, sadness, and maybe even anger. 

The world of organizational development and industrial psychology is increasingly recognizing that employees who aren’t laid off can often experience negative psychological impact and require care and coaching support. Research, such as Harvard Business Review’s 2009 article on helping layoff survivors to be more effective (Nyberg, Trevor June 2009), shows that business impact such as reduced engagement, creativity, and even increased voluntary departures can become the next wave of impact when remaining team members don’t receive adequate recognition and support for their needs after seeing their colleagues laid off at an organization.

“The next wave after laying off employees is decreased engagement and creativity, plus increased voluntary turnover, in employees who were not let go.”

~ Harvard Business Review

Can companies do more and provide communication coaching to those employees who weren’t laid off, but remain affected and at a loss of how to help their colleagues that were let go? Thankfully, the answer is, yes!

The five communication tips below will help your employees reach out to their former colleagues.

Tip # 1: It’s okay to feel emotional. Name your emotion and be honest, but don’t force it on the other person. Identifying and naming an emotion helps us to cope with it. You may not have been laid off, but you are still part of an organization that is going through significant change. Being up front in your conversation and simply naming your emotion may help the other person recognize and manage their own emotional reaction.

  • Example script: “I have to tell you that I currently feel really anxious and sad, but this isn’t about me. How are you doing?”

 

Tip # 2: Beware the blackhole of negativity. Let’s be clear, we’re not saying that one shouldn’t feel negative emotions. On the contrary, as we mention in our first communication coaching tip, it’s healthy to recognize our emotions. What we’re talking about here is akin to pernicious office gossip. Listen and, if you’re up for it, be a sounding board and acknowledge your colleagues’ feelings of negativity. You can help by transitioning their thinking to the future of possibilities, and keep their dwelling on what’s already happened to a minimum.

  • Example script: “This really sucks, and I know it’s disingenuous for me to think that I understand how it feels to be in your shoes. Have you thought about your next steps? What can I do to help?”

 

Tip # 3: Offer ideas, but then ask them what they need. You can either simply ask them how you can help, or, if you feel that it’s appropriate, offer up your ideas of help. We understand that this can be a delicate balancing act where one doesn’t want to come across as trying to “fix the problem” for others. When in doubt, just make it clear that you want to help and follow up on this in the future if there is an immediate action that you can take to help your former colleague.

  • Example script: “I’d like to help you and am thinking about ideas like introducing you to my contacts that may have needs for your skills, but is there something that you can think of that I can do to help you? If now’s not a good time, know that I’d be open to your reaching out to me in a few days if you think of something I can do to help you.”

 

Tip # 4: Recognize that different people need different types of support. If taking personality tests as part of team building haven’t made this clear enough to you, then think of your family members. Does everyone deal with negative news and challenges in the same way? No, and that’s why it’s helpful to remember that what helps one colleague may not help another. Is your colleague a “sacrificer” and needs a push to start to think more of herself? Or maybe he’s a “wallflower” and needs to do a better job of promoting himself and his skills?

  • Example script: “Hey, you always did so much to help others shine at work, but I have to be honest that I think that you often don’t do enough to promote yourself and your accomplishments. How about I help review your resume to make sure you’re calling out all your capabilities?”

 

Tip # 5: Don’t make it a once and done. Perhaps one of the most important things you can do is to not make this a one-time outreach. Recognize that it will take time to process and sort out what this means for someone who has lost a job. Reach out when others aren’t doing it anymore. Experiencing a job loss has stages of recognition and anxiety. Making a point to periodically check-in means that you may be able to connect and help when others aren’t anymore.

  • Example script: “Is it valuable to you if we talk again in two weeks? I know things may be different at that point and I’d like to connect with you again to see how you’re doing.”

 

Utilizing the same mix of empathy plus “keeping it real” elements, we here at futureAlign are able to develop impactful Executive Communications for Fortune 500 leaders and small businesses alike. For more information about leading your organization through change, contact Emily Yang at emily@futurealign.com.

 

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futureAlign is a heart-centered communications and engagement company. We work with some of the largest companies in the world to drive effective communications, coaching and branding that leads to greater employee engagement and alignment. Click here to learn how we can align your team to the future that’s possible.

Emily Yang

Emily Yang

Emily Yang, Sr. Change Comms Strategy Consultant

20 years experience leading global organizational change and communications for Fortune 100 clients. Lead Culture Change, Merger & Acquisitions and Digital Transformation through consulting firms such as Arthur Andersen and KPMG Consulting. BS in Finance and Chinese Prosci® Certification

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