How to motivate employees during layoffs

Layoffs and restructurings can leave many “surviving employees” feeling upset, distracted, and overworked. This, in turn, creates a challenge for leaders who need to find ways to keep their workers motivated and loyal .

While challenging times like these can certainly be disheartening, and as stressful for you as your team, there are ways to bring everyone together, and keep those who remain motivated and focused. Even employees with reduced morale can remain motivated and coached to stay highly productive, which could help them weather the storm of losing friends and colleagues in a reorganization. With good leadership, you can learn how to motivate employees during layoffs.

Prioritize motivation over management

To keep employees motivated despite challenging circumstances, let your mantra be, “Lead first, manage second.” Rather than zeroing on management duties related to tasks and processes, focus on your core function as a leader — capturing the hearts and minds of employees. Taking care of the people who carry the business will be good for business.

To create an environment in which employees can maintain their motivation levels in the midst of challenges, leaders need to focus on four areas:

  1. Clarity
  2. Trust
  3. Buy-in
  4. Development

How to motivate employees during layoffs: communicate with clarity

In down times, ambiguity is the enemy. Ambiguity leads to conflict and discouragement because employees are left to fill in the blanks at the very time they are feeling most fearful and uncertain about their jobs. Work diligently to remove as much ambiguity as possible from the workplace:

  • Over-communicate what you do know and be honest about what you don’t know.
  • Repeat the information often.
  • Help your employees put their current reality into perspective.
  • Keep them in their own lanes by clearly delineating current organizational goals and their roles in achieving those goals.

Additionally, stop encouraging employees to “think outside the box” during this time. That kind of direction can actually derail motivation levels because it comes across as out of touch with reality. Redirect employee energy from resistance to problem-solving by encouraging them to “think inside the box,” where the “box” consists of goals on the one hand and constraints currently in place (such as a freeze on headcount or limited funding) on the other. This will help generate actual solutions that respect the very real constraints on your employees.

Instill trust to safeguard motivation

An important part of learning how to motivate employees during layoffs is working to ensure that your employees can trust you as a consistent, dependable leader who is committed to their best interests and outcomes. While you may not be able to reassure your employees that their jobs are secure, you can assure them that you will work diligently to develop them and their skills so that they are best prepared to handle whatever comes their way.

Resist the urge to share your own disgruntled fears or collude with your employees against the company. This actually threatens your trustworthiness. They are looking for you to put aside your needs and fears and to provide realistic and inspirational leadership — step up and give it to them.

Buy-in is motivating and not optional

Too often during an economic downturn, leaders require less “buy-in.” That is, they begin to expect and accept less from their employees. “Since I can’t give you a great raise, I guess buy-in is optional.” Many leaders believe that engagement and happiness come from a lack of stress at work, when in fact they come from teamwork, accountability, and a shared vision. Insist on buy-in each and every day.

Hold your employees accountable to succeed despite the circumstances. Let their motivation be built by overcoming difficulties under the direction of a great leader who cares about them and recognizes their great achievements.

In challenging times focus on development

Give your employees time, attention and challenging assignments. The greatest development does not come from attending training, it happens when employees are given challenging assignments and are supported and coached to success. Make your commitment to employee development conscious and visible. Let them know that while you may not be able to offer monetary-based rewards this year, you will compensate them by increasing their capabilities and capacity.

Hire motivated employees who can weather the storm

Layoffs are a common, tough reality of doing business, and figuring out how to motivate employees during layoffs is no small task. But that’s one reason why it’s so important to hire motivated employees who can work through adversity and uncertainty. Get help finding resilient, dedicated candidates who share your vision by signing up for the expert recruitment advice and hiring trends available through Monster Hiring Solutions.