“Scale down” is a business term that tends to leave a bitter taste on the tongue, especially when it’s code for staffing cuts. No organization truly wants to go through the downsizing process; laying off a portion of your workforce is highly unpleasant for all involved. And while many companies demonstrate astute business acumen with the procedural and legal steps involved in trimming and realigning resources, the attention given to the “human” in “Human Resources” or people in the “People Operations” can demonstrate low emotional intelligence/emotional quotient (EQ).
EQ is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. A company’s low EQ, especially during the downsizing process, can result in irreparable damage to its work culture. Here are three EQ-based tips to keep the people impacted by downsizing front and center during this uneasy period of transition.
Tip 1: Transparent “Open Door” Communication is Crucial
At all levels of this difficult process, consistent communication is crucial. Having a downsizing plan in place will better facilitate this. Employees will have more confidence in management if the rationale for downsizing is clearly explained, and they are regularly kept abreast of the changes as the downsizing occurs. When employees learn why you must downsize, communicate how their jobs might change. Your door should always be open to anyone who needs to vent, to clarify, or to understand. After staff reductions, remaining staff may feel concerned about their employment and/or the direction of the company. During this time of unrest, don’t wait for them to come to you. Arrange team and individual meetings more often to clarify new goals and responsibilities, to offer training or retraining options, and, if needed, to console and reassure.
Tip 2: Respect Individuality: Listen more, Talk less
Despite earnest advice to depersonalize downsizing by sticking to and delivering causal business facts, it is important and humane to remember that at the center of “depersonalize” is “person”. Downsizing is ultimately about people, all of whom have unique stories and concerns. As such, each employee impacted by downsizing deserves to be treated with respect and understanding of their unique situations regarding the changing status of their employment. This means conducting more individual and less group meetings. Most important, during those meetings, it means not dominating the conversations–that can dehumanize. Remember these aren’t lectures; they’re dialogues. Compassionately deliver relevant, essential information and remind each and every person you engage with that confidentiality and privacy will be maintained. Then give control of the conversation to the employee by listening to reactions and questions. Ask for such if necessary. And listen. Actively listen. Each individual voice needs to be honored. It’s the emotionally intelligent thing to do.
Tip 3: Genuine Empathy Engenders Trust
Workplace trust and morale can nosedive during and after downsizing. Genuine empathy goes a long way in re-establishing trust in your downsized workplace. Related to active listening, empathy is the ability to understand and to share the feelings of another. It is shown by asking the staff how they feel about the downsizing and by letting them freely query and/or vent. Don’t judge reactions or take ownership by saying that you know how they feel (because you don’t). Stay away from responses like “You shouldn’t feel that way”. Instead, try “I can see this is difficult for you” or “Thank you for trusting me enough to share how you really feel.” Don’t try to fix or change their feelings by telling them things will get better or, worse yet, by offering them a cliched response like “Let’s look at the bright side”. That’s not empathy. Simply be genuine and present with the emotions of those who were let go and respect the feelings of remaining staff who might be frustrated and overwhelmed by taking on more job/task responsibilities than they hired into. Trust begins to be repaired when authentically acknowledging the very real human emotions of downsizing.
SPARK THOUGHT is well-equipped to assist you when downsizing becomes a necessity. We can analyze the root cause of your situation and develop strategic solutions to help make a trying time a little less difficult for everyone involved. If your organization is facing these challenges, you don’t have to face them alone. We listen. We collaborate and innovate. We deliver customized Knowledge Management Solutions.