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In what was perhaps a textbook example of bad optics, our company announced layoffs recently. To make things worse, the environment was such that many of us were personal friends as well as colleagues.

The employees who are left are facing incredibly low morale, difficulty maintaining productivity, an increased workload, and an environment slightly less cheery than that of a mortuary.

What are some strategies we remaining employees can employ to maintain/restore morale and productivity during this time of loss?

Edit:

I am not in a managerial role, just a lead role, and am asking for myself and my fellow employees.

Also, worth noting: I ask this as a way to fight the natural urge to stop producing or caring, as this will only hurt our careers in the long run if we give in to the natural urges to strike back at the company.

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    What’s your role in the organization?
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 18 '20 at 14:28
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    @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil I am a regular employee. Feb 18 '20 at 14:32
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    Perhaps those colleagues that were also personal friends you can continue hanging out after work or keep in touch even though you are not in the same company?
    – DarkCygnus
    Feb 18 '20 at 16:37
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    @DarkCygnus doing that, and have lent them my network of connections. I have connections that I cannot use to benefit myself, but a recommendation from me goes far. Feb 18 '20 at 17:17
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    @Old_Lamplighter that's what the employees of the banks and insurance companies that went under in 2008 no doubt thought, and the employees of Alitalia, PanAm, and TWA (to name but a few).
    – jwenting
    Feb 19 '20 at 4:56
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The situation you're describing is tough. Layoffs have a very real impact on both the individuals that are let go and those that remain. I'm sorry you're experiencing this.

Here are some things to consider that may help you and your colleagues cope with the added stress and emotions following a layoff:

  1. Acknowledge the layoff and the feelings of your colleagues. Avoiding the topic can extend negative feelings and disenfranchise those most impacted. You should find an opportunity to connect with your colleagues for an honest conversation about your feelings following the layoff. Perhaps reach out to hold a number of 1-on-1 conversations, or gather your team for an off-site lunch and prompt the discussion.

  2. Acknowledge that everyone will be impacted differently. Some of your colleagues will feel totally okay and ready to get back to work. Others will feel anxious and worried in a way that prevents them from performing the same way they did before the layoff. There is no right or "professional" reaction to a layoff. Be open to the feelings and reactions of all of your colleagues equally.

  3. Create practical solutions to new processes and responsibilities. If your team now has a greater workload, be a generator of solutions. Try out ideas for making processes in your team more efficient and predictable.

  4. Create transparency about the state of the business and potential future staff changes. Layoffs are a clear indication of business trouble. Facilitate sharing facts about the state of the business and actively work to eliminate rumors. Additionally, layoffs will likely cause shifts in responsibility as roles are consolidated or reorganized. Make clear who has specific responsibilities both inside and outside of your team. Actively eliminate any sources of uncertainty and anxiety that you can.

  5. Be a role model. Don't participate in gossip or complaining about the layoff. Don't disparage management or other colleagues in casual conversation. Be a model for professionalism and caring.

  6. Maintain work standards and a caring meritocracy. A layoff isn't an excuse for allowing work quality to decline. Additionally, differences in productivity and quality between team members should be consistently and fairly addressed. If a team member is underperforming following the layoff, provide direct feedback and ask what you can do to help.

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    +1 for "Be a role model". This is one of the most important aspects.
    – SiHa
    Feb 21 '20 at 9:23
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Jay's list is already good, I'd like to add one point from personal observation from when I was laid off:

As a survivor, do not feel guilty. Assuming you did not personally pick who should stay and who should go, don't feel responsible for it. Don't feel like you have to tread lightly or be any different from the day before the layoff with the people you know privately who lost their job. They know you are not responsible and at least those with good prospects to find a new job soon, would probably not want to trade places with you anyway.

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    haha great point. I just got laid off and I find it a bit of a relief. I started getting bored of the role anyhow and now I'm getting paid severance to find a new role. Couldn't have asked for this to go any better.
    – leigero
    Feb 18 '20 at 15:44
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    I would like to add a bit to this point that some survivors might have a bad case of Impostor syndrome.
    – Shikkou
    Feb 20 '20 at 13:07
  • @leigero: good luck, it could still go worse (but obviously, nobody wants that for you).
    – nomen
    Feb 20 '20 at 17:06
  • @leigero Sometimes, the best an employer can do for you is letting you go or laying you off. My fixed contract at one position was not promoted to unlimited one and it was the best they did for me - I've found better job, better paid job and better team.
    – Crowley
    Feb 20 '20 at 23:28
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Some really good answers already, but I think there is one important part missing:

It's up to the leadership of the company to "sell" the layoff to the rest of the employees. A layoff is an indication that something went massively wrong, so the leadership owes the employees an explanation. That explanation should include:

  1. What happened and why? What were the key factors that led to the layoff
  2. If the leadership made any mistakes (likely!) they should call them out and acknowledge them
  3. What will the company be doing differently going forward? What have they learned and what will they specifically do to avoid another round of layoffs?
  4. What's the outlook?
  5. What are the key metrics that will be used to determine if the company is doing better and how will they be shared with the team?

If leadership does this openly and transparently then morale should quickly improve after the people get over the first shock: There is light at the end of the tunnel and a credible plan to get there.

If leadership fails to do this, you shouldn't worry about morale but start looking for a new job immediately. If they can't learn from past mistakes, they are bound to repeat them, and it's time to leave the sinking ship.

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    I think there is a typo in your answer - management ows a proper explanation to employees.
    – Crowley
    Feb 20 '20 at 23:30
  • "A layoff is an indication that something went massively wrong", so it only right to ask if any of the management responsible for that were laid off Feb 21 '20 at 13:08
  • @Crowley - +1, but owes. Feb 21 '20 at 13:49
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    @DonBranson owned.
    – Crowley
    Feb 21 '20 at 16:11
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You're asking how to maintain morale and productivity, but with that, you're skipping a step that you cannot really skip.

And that step is, what is, realistically, the outlook and chances for the company in the short, intermediate and long run?

As in, did the company actually fix their problems, or are the problems still there?

Because, you can maintain morale and productivity if the problem has been fixed and will not appear again. If the state of the company is still bad, then maintaining high morale is just an exercise in a group delusion.

(and it will make you unprepared when the next series of bad consequences happens)

Step 1: Find out what the true state of the company is, and what is likely to happen. What other steps is the management, realistically, likely to do.

If you find that the condition is now good, then that fact by itself will raise morale. And if you find that it isn't... well then you should be thinking and planning for other things.

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  • I would say that OP finding out the condition is good is not sufficient for morale raise. This information must reach all employees, because only those who knows it can feel safe in their position and reward the company by higher morale. Otherwise the status quo is still present and morale is steadily dropping.
    – Crowley
    Feb 20 '20 at 23:35
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I feel like we work for the same company. I just got a layoff notice and my teams morale is at an all time low and most of the ones who were "rebadged" or "retained" are still looking elsewhere because "they might be next." I actually addressed this with my boss. I think there are a number of things that can be done. Since management might benefit from this question as well I'm going to outline some suggestions for both employees and employers:

Employer

  1. Provide mental health resources - During the Layoff process (some larger companies phase this over the course of several days or weeks), provide mental health resources in-office for those who are struggling to cope with the layoffs. Even employees who don't yet know their status may be suffering from extreme anxiety exacerbated by personal issues which make them very reliant on a steady income. Employees who were not laid off may be depressed or anxious because colleagues and friends they worked closely with were.

  2. Lessen the impact with notice - Giving those affected plenty of time to find a new job by letting them know 2-3 months in advance, or providing severance are great ways to help that employee find a new role prior to their departure. This reduces the initial impact to them and helps ease the concern of their peers who are often genuinely concerned about the well-being of those laid off.

  3. Offer to help find a new role Managers and employers often have a lot of connections. Typically layoffs are not due to performance so it would ease the transition and lower stress and anxiety to offer to help use any existing connections to help affected employees find a new role. Offer to write letters of recommendation or provide references and assist wherever possible to help those laid off find new jobs in a timely manner.

Employees

  1. Offer to help Much like manager, offer to help those affected by offering to be a reference or providing your connections/contacts to help those laid off find a new role (if they're friends of yours or you worked closely with them).

  2. Make an effort to engage in morale events Schedule or engage in a group morale event like a happy hour or team lunch. I have found that these always bring a team closer together and encourage better working relationships and improved morale even in unfortunate circumstances.

  3. keep in touch with those affected If one or more of those laid off worked closely with you and were friends then it helps to keep in touch. Often times those laid off are initially shocked but after only a few months they find new work and are satisfied with the change in pace/life and are fine. It may help to watch their progress as they handle the transition (hopefully) with grace and land on their feet.

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    “Schedule or engage in a group morale event like a happy hour” — you might not want to refer to it as a “happy” hour when arranging this. Feb 20 '20 at 10:19
  • Would the 2-3 month advance notice give them leave with pay? I know a lot of companies prefer to walk employees out the door the moment they terminate them to avoid potential sabotage or other bad reactions.
    – bob
    Feb 20 '20 at 18:45
  • @PaulD.Waite I agree. And I think timing might be key. I think you need to give people space to grieve and not ask them to "cheer up" too soon or else you risk alienating them even further. If a company lays off a ton of people and then immediately holds morale events, in my opinion it makes the management look callous, clueless, or both. Any of which could send more people running for the door. So timing and messaging would be key here.
    – bob
    Feb 20 '20 at 18:47
  • Maybe a better approach initially would be to acknowledge that this is a "difficult time for us all", but that we're going to get through this together and be even stronger than we were (the last part is tricky to message right though; you don't want to imply that the laid off folks were deadweight; stronger would come from being better aligned with the market, better able to compete, or better from learning from our past strategic mistakes even?). Just some thoughts--never been through anything like this myself.
    – bob
    Feb 20 '20 at 18:51
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The less anyone (laid off or surviving) has (or voices) the impression (justified or unjustified) that they have been (or are being) lied to (ignorantly, benevolently or malevolently), the better.

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  • True, but can you expand the answer a little bit more?
    – Crowley
    Feb 20 '20 at 23:46

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