How to Win Back Trust and Stay Engaged With the Remaining Employees

If you’ve had to lay off employees, it’s been a rough time. If the layoff was significant, you literally have a new organization to run. That’s a big transition. How do you start?.

How does an organization rebuild trust, maintain morale, foster engagement, and ensure the productivity you need to survive?

Here are some of your first steps.

  1. Don’t pretend. The layoffs happened and that impacts everyone. Employees and management will have to deal with survivor guilt, anxiety about the future, disengagement from leadership, and a host of other emotions.

What should the next days look like? As they say, the fastest way out is through. Standford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman recommends finding ways to get over emotional obstacles faster. “By front-loading emotions, you effectively discharge them.” The first step is acknowledging that something painful has happened. Then, find the right ways to provide time, space, and support.

  1. Over-engage. Tell them why. Share the problem facing the organization, the alternatives, and why the solution included layoffs. In many cases, an employee would reach the same conclusion.

Then, describe the experience for remaining employees. How will workflow and responsibilities change? Answer the question on each employee’s mind: “What about me?” Get tactical, specific, and local.

Finally, ask employees for help in planning the next phase. This activates a sense of control. There’s nothing like a layoff to make people feel powerless and afraid; fear doesn’t bring out the best. But including employees in plans that affect them gives them a sense of control. Control feels safe. It frees up people’s energy for what you want – doing their jobs and moving the organization forward.

  1. Help them connect. Many employees will feel the loss of these splintered relationships. For some, their friends just got fired. For employees who didn’t lose friends, their teams and support structures are broken. Help them create new connections within the new organization.

For example, you might start communities of interest or “book clubs” on development topics. These groups work across functions and allow people to discover connections in unlikely places. This promotes an informal cross-functional network that can pay off for the organization. And your efforts don’t have to be work-related. Simply creating spaces for social interaction can foster new friendships.

  1. Revive enthusiasm. What comes next? If you’ve done the work to dissipate negative emotions and engage, the next step is giving people a focus for their energy.

So be sure you have a clear vision and you share it. But, beyond that, make sure your message lands. What future is in store for the organization? How can everyone help get there? What’s your rallying cry? Create a shared purpose on which everyone can focus.

Layoffs are never a good thing, but they can ensure the survival of your organization. If you do it right, employees can emerge stronger and more engaged than before.