How to Re-ignite the Meraki of Your Workforce After Mass Layoffs
Do you still experience meraki at work? A question every leader should ask the workforce after a large-scale retrenchment, or mass layoff.
Meraki, a Greek concept, essentially refers to doing something with pride and leaving behind a part of ourselves in the work we do. In the workplace, it implies finding meaning in your work. How much do you identify with it? Does it fire your creativity and give you a sense of purpose?
Both Meraki and mass layoffs are connected with human psychology. How?
As per an article published on January 30, 2023, by US-based infotech and business technology publication Computerworld, the total count of tech layoffs in January 2023 alone surpassed that for any other month since the start of the pandemic.
Some prominent announcements over January 4 to 26 are Amazon shedding over 18,000 employees, Salesforce’s 8,000-cut, Informatica’s 7% workforce reduction, Microsoft’s 10,000 employee cut, Google’s 12,000 job-hack, and IBM and SAP’s 39,00 and 2,800 job-cuts, respectively.
Retrenchment, especially of this scale,is devastating – both for individuals taking the loss and the economy as a whole.
What about the remaining workforce?
The proverbial sword of Damocles
“When will it fall on me” is a question that haunts many as they brave it to their office every day.
Layoffs have a significant damaging impact – not just on the people who are being let go, but equally on those who remain.
In the tumultuous times we are in, layoffs have become integral to corporate strategy. Their application as a strategic tool has undergone a sea change over the years. From being far and few episodes, they are increasingly becoming a routine exercise.
Anything from fast-paced automation and digitization to economic slowdown, pandemic scares, intensifying competition globally could prompt an organization to undertake organizational restructuring. And this is the worst part—retrenchment is not always related to lack of competence or skills.
To put it mildly, it is unsettling for those who remain at the organization. The constant fear and anxiety associated with “will I be the next”, the pain of seeing your peers let go, their empty desks reminding you of your vulnerability and instability can be mindboggling.
Nothing can be more insensitive or foolhardy than to ask or expect your people to work with their meraki.
What the organization has undertaken may well extinguish any meraki. This is precisely the point. What support can you provide that will restore the confidence of the workers in themselves and in the organization?
Agreed, you bit the bullet. But, it’s time now to boost the morale and re-ignite the meraki.
The steps that count
Time is ticking. The first casualty of any mass layoff is the image and perception of the organization. Share prices fall, speculation abounds about how the leadership is faring, rumor mills start running about what could have fueled the move to let go of the employees, what lies ahead, etc.
It would be wrong on the leadership’s part to assume that the remaining employees will continue to stay compelled by their need for a job. Financial security may keep them chained as long as the scenario does not improve, if the reason for the retrenchment is a slowdown.
But what if it was triggered because of some other factor, say a change in management or in organizational operations? What is the message that goes out?
Grab the first chance you get to ditch your current workplace, and make the leap.
No one wants to stay in a workplace that takes its employees for granted, or where the environment is toxic and the leadership is doing nothing about it. People will soon start talking about it. They will go to social media or other company review platforms.
Before you realize, employee attrition would have raised its ugly head.
Hence, there is no time to waste.
In fact, some measures could be implemented while the mass layoff is underway.
Are you talking enough? Nothing works better than communication.
While the layoffs are underway, hold as many conversations as you can with people across the organization, across levels and seniority, and with the various teams.
Aim for the line managers specifically. That is where the bulk of the exchange of information happens. These are also the key influencers. You may, depending upon your discretion, like to take some of them into confidence even before the mass layoff has been rolled out. Ask for their suggestions and see if these can be implemented. Having them by your side helps in sending out the right message to the rest of the team.
Keep the atmosphere light during the discussions/meetings. Broach the subject but with caution to not spread panic. Listen and observe as much as you talk. This will help the people speak up about their fears and air the questions they may have.
Using your discretion, explain the rationale behind why the company or leadership has taken the difficult step. Communicate honestly and clearly why and how it is as much a tough pill for the management to swallow.
If you have made adjustments to cut down the number being retrenched by reshuffling people, or moving them to other teams, talk about that too. Showing that it was not a heartless decision or executed recklessly will earn you goodwill. Employees value compassion.
If it is a large organization, you may write an open letter. Express your thoughts with honesty and be direct. Talk about how the leadership intends to take the organization forward, and what prospects lie in store for the remaining staff. Convey that the organization is going to emerge stronger from the crisis.
Express your confidence in the workforce. Pepper your conversations with messages that the management will do its best to provide the required support. Seek questions. Employees will reward a genuine quest by placing their trust in you.
Invest right, earn more. Use the time to rally employees behind you. Sounds paradoxical, right? But it is achievable.
By investing in talent building as a means of employee engagement. Upskill and reskill your existing workforce for futuristic roles, such as advanced analytics and other hard-to-find skills.
Invest in your existing talent pool. Revisit the learning & development programs. Come up with relevant modules for training and invest in upgrading their knowledge and skills for more specific roles.
You can also hire the services of talent acquisition solution providers with specialization in coaching and mentoring, and workforce transformation.
Facilitating internal talent mobility will send a powerful message to the existing workforce about the organization being employee-centric.
Ideate on working arrangements and how you can provide a better ecosystem to support people. See if you can make these flexible to suit different requirements. The more options you have, the greater the chances of winning over the remaining workers.
Help’s just a call away. Seasoned experts can help you achieve a lot more in upskilling/reskilling.
Enter Vantedge Search and our peers.
These firms specialize in leadership development, coaching and mentoring, among a host of other services. They also offer sound advice, strategies and customized solutions on talent management, employee engagement/satisfaction, and workforce transformation.
Leveraging their bespoke services and incisive insights, you can develop high-potential members for specific roles. You can build in more inclusiveness in your organization.
Revealing your socially responsible facet will help employees identify with you.
We have your back – more, when it is not easy. Take steps to reassure your surviving employees that the organization has their back, however conflicting it may sound or seem given the changes.
Layoff may lead to reshuffling of responsibilities. You can revisit some of the KPIs or KRAs. Realign career paths to suit growth objectives and make job-level changes. Whatever steps you take, ensure the message reaches out.
You could revisit the benefit packages, especially of the older employees, to make it more congruent with their needs. Likewise, insurance covers could be customized.
This is a good time to breathe more life into rewards and recognitions. Recognize the people who are there for their contribution. You could organize monthly or quarterly awards, send notes of appreciation, or acknowledge the work of people – especially if it has a social overtone – on social media. The aim is to amplify the contribution genuinely.
Don’t confine recognition to only the surviving employees; treat well even those who are leaving. See if a decent send-off can be organized, especially for those who may be valued in their teams. Recognize their contribution even after they are gone.
Encourage the surviving employees to provide whatever support they can to their colleagues who have lost their jobs. These could include providing giving referrals or introducing them to a wider network.
Taking care of mental wellbeing is highly effective in demonstrating concern. You could organize mental health or other awareness sessions to help people beat the blues. There could be help lines for them to reach out in times of distress.
Watching your closest colleagues leave can sag the morale of the surviving team. But prudent support and effective compassion are impactful in restoring the spirit. Knowing that the organization cares about them will reassure the workforce that their jobs are safe and overcome anxiety.
We are strong because we are sensitive. Sensitivity and prudence are the key ingredients of emotional intelligence. Treading thoughtfully, you can build bridges.
Ensure the workload remains balanced. The workforce is smaller now, and people may take up more responsibilities than they can handle. You may redesign schedules, re-prioritize tasks, have conversations on how much load the people can handle. It may help to not overemphasize on productivity – at least till the time the dust settles.
People migrating to newer roles may need training. Provide the right infrastructure and resources to help them scale up.
Lookout for signs of burnout. If you notice, address these immediately. Sensitize all reporting and line managers to be more accommodating to their reportees.
Provide a forum where employees, including line/reporting managers, can express themselves, their concerns and fears. They need a platform to vent to their feelings and emotions.
Take feedback, either through direct one-on-one conversations or through surveys. This will help you understand where the teams need help, such as the new talent required or how to build the right workplace culture.
Typically, after large-scale layoffs, emotions run high. There is chaos. Providing a safe space where workers express themselves fearlessly can assuage their concerns.
The team that stays together, survives. Reshuffling of roles and responsibilities post-layoff may lead to changes in team compositions. When weary employees are pushed to work with newer team members, it could create fragile and challenging situations.
Encourage people to work with each other. Facilitate interaction so that workers get to know each other better.You can also organize team-building activities, indoor and outdoor, to build a cohesive environment.
Social work or charity is a crowd puller. Engaging in activities that are likelyto have a positive impact on the society, or taking up a social cause, lifts the mood and morale. These events can be organized at short notice, and provide a fertile ground for people to bond with each other.This will encourage cooperation and improve interpersonal relationships.
Build an effective conflict management process. It will not just address ongoing conflict, but also pre-empt potential conflicts and diffuse the situation.
When interpersonal relationships are strong, employees feel secure. This motivates them to bring out their best.
Was I cued in? Often, the approach is to address an issue after it has snowballed into a disaster. Decisions to retrench people en masse are not taken overnight. Be vigilant. As soon as you notice the situation is brewing, put your remedial plan into action.
Include post-retrenchment employee engagement in strategic restructuring initiatives. Plan how you will communicate, what will be the damage control measures, what is the level of re-skilling you are looking at, and how you will approach the surviving employees at the organization.
Pre-emptive measures and foresight are imperative to minimize damage. If the morale of employees is intact, they will not leave. Else, before you realize, company-wide attrition could be staring you in the face.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Layoffs are challenging.
For those who survive, it is like living with post-traumatic stress disorder. The damaging psychological impact dents their ability to perform their routine jobs. The distraction and anxiety drain out creativity. That’s the decimation of meraki.
For leaders, to motivate the surviving employees to up the ante in the adverse situation and give meaningful results is an uphill task.
But with incisive emotional intelligence, you can strategize the uphill climb. Trust-building and team-building can help you turn this high-intensity phase into an opportunity to motivate the surviving workforce to give their best.
Mass layoff put your reputation at stake. Re-igniting the meraki of the surviving employees will help you redeem it.