What remaining employees want to hear from leaders immediately after layoffs

January 30, 2023, 12:48 PM UTC
Portrait of male CEO in big corner office, looking out of window
Following layoffs many employees yearn for a plan from leaders.
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Good morning!

We’ve seen a host of layoff memos from CEOs as of late. So much so that the announcements have started to sound alike. Many chief executives have chosen to take accountability, apologizing for overhiring and the resulting staff cuts. But what do employees who’ve survived a workforce reduction really want to hear from their leaders after layoffs

It turns out that many just want to hear a plan forward.

“I think it’s nice that CEOs say [they’re taking accountability], but that’s not enough,” says HR expert and consultant Josh Bersin. “What people want to hear is: ‘We have a plan, we’re going to get this place back on track, and here’s what we’re going to do.’” This is where CHROs come into play.

Employers who clearly communicate how they plan to realign teams to their new business priorities have a leg up in remotivating often demoralized remaining employees. “It’s something that gives people confidence and forward momentum,” Bersin explains. He underscores that people want a roadmap and to feel like the personnel changes made were purposeful.

Many workers also want to know whether additional downsizing will occur and if their jobs will be next on the chopping block. It’s a pressing question that can spark an environment of fear among employees if not quelled quickly.

“When caring for people internally after layoffs, whether they’re the people who were affected or the people who are staying behind, they need to feel that the environment is psychologically safe in order for them to continue to thrive,” says Cameron Yarbrough, cofounder and CEO of leadership coaching platform Torch. Psychological safety means creating a culture of trust where employees feel they can show up and perform to their best ability.

That requires radical transparency at all levels—not just the executive rank.

Bersin also encourages leaders to share what they plan to do differently in the future, what the company is no longer doing, and how they’ll remove friction in day-to-day work. “Reduce some of the bureaucracy, maybe have fewer meetings, and other things that have been getting in the way,” he instructs. Bringing teams together is paramount in the days following major layoffs.

During this time, employees also want to hear how they’ll be involved in the organizational redesign. It’s a conversation that employees are often mistakenly left out of, says Bersin.

“The best organizational redesign is done by the people doing the jobs, not by the manager or a third-party consultant,” he explains. “I don’t think leaders have to have all the answers, but they have to bring people together and talk about it.”

Last, and most importantly, leaders should prioritize communicating how they plan to take care of laid-off employees. Failing to do so could be detrimental to retaining existing employees.

“High performers still have choices,” says Yarbrough. “If I’m one of those people and I hear that one of my peers that I’ve spent the last five years of my life with was treated without respect, I’m going to start looking for another environment where people are treated with dignity.”

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

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Retaining talent in 2023 will require HR leaders to go the extra mile to customize the employee experience, says Natalie Rothman, EVP and chief human resources officer at Advance Auto Parts.

“The key areas that HR leaders will need to focus on this year are connected to employee retention, cost-effectiveness, and the smart use of technology. To navigate the major shifts in the economy, society, and business, the HR function needs to help provide personalized employment experiences that align with individual preferences and perspectives.”

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- A commercial landlord in Washington, D.C., faces the prospect of an empty office building after his last tenant moved out. Washington Post

- The most in-demand role right now is the CFO, as companies look for someone to steer them through potentially choppy financial waters. Bloomberg

- CVS and Walmart are cutting hours of operation for their pharmacies because they can’t hire enough pharmacists to staff them. Wall Street Journal

- The president of McDonald’s USA said California’s new law protecting fast-food workers would make it “all but impossible to run small business restaurants." Insider

- Former Shopify chief technology officer Allan Leinwand is the third C-suite executive to leave the company in the last six months. The Information


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

'No humanity.' Employees at tech firms report especially harsh layoff procedures like termination emails sent in the middle of the night and learning about job cuts through the press. —Alicia Adamczyk

Untapped talent. Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya urges companies to hire refugees. “You'll have the most loyal and motivated workforce you’ve ever seen.” —Phil Wahba

Dirty, little secret. All bosses secretly want employees back in the office full-time, and, even if it takes a few years, it will happen, says Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the U.K.’s biggest business group. —Chloe Taylor

Prepare and plan. Layoffs have hit HR teams particularly hard. Fortune's Orianna Rosa Royle offers a playbook for how to prepare for one. First step: Dust off your Rolodex. —Orianna Rosa Royle

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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