“I could never do your
job.” I’ve heard this more than once,
most likely in the course of discussions about a layoff, termination or
particularly difficult employee investigation. Often I could never do their job
either, especially if it involves science or any higher level math. Of course
it’s not the technical aspects of the HR role that seem most daunting; it’s the
thorny stuff that affects people’s livelihood.
If you are an HR professional
or business manager tasked with breaking the bad news about a layoff you know
it’s never easy. It doesn’t make you want to race back to your desk to tackle
the next project.
An AllBusiness reader who had
to “let some good people go in order to cut costs” summed up the feelings when he
I am looked at like the bad guy and people get nervous
when I come around thinking they are about to be let go. My morale is at
a low point and I need some advice as to how I can get that fire going
It’s a Business Decision
Layoffs and staff reductions
have become part of the way we do business in the
attached to job elimination.
This may be the first time
you have been the bearer of bad news but it is unlikely to be the last. Realize
that this is a business decision taken to keep the organization afloat, move it
in another direction or respond to realities in the marketplace. Don’t just
take the decision on face value; learn as much as you can about the reasons
behind the job cuts. The more you know the more you can explain and support the
Listen to Employees
My first role as an HR
Director was at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, a promotion from a more junior spot
the potential for 6-12 inches of snow that evening. The Regional HR Director,
who accompanied me on the trip, was busy checking return flights so he didn’t
have to stay the night.
The weather was not the only
change in atmosphere I had to negotiate. By the end of my first week I asked my
staff, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come into HR?”
We were located in the requisite spot near an employee entrance and I
had persuaded the department to keep the door open. My admin told me, “The only
time anyone ever comes into HR is to get fired or laid off. No one wants to
come into your office.” My predecessor had been fired. I needed to do
something, fast, it was getting pretty lonely.
I took extra steps to listen
to employees. I attended as many department meetings as possible, became a
regular in the employee cafeteria and did as much management by walking around
as I could.
Listening to employees was
invaluable. During my tenure in
developed good relationships and trust. I couldn’t hire and promote everyone
but I could solve individual issues, or explain why some changes could not be
made, and in doing so helped employees and the Hotel move forward. When you get
out and listen to employees, particularly in HR, you can make a difference
every day. Word gets around and you are no longer viewed only as the grim
Embrace Company Goals
What are the organization’s
goals to move forward? Whether the company is just trying to hold on, kick
start growth or undergoing a reinvention every employee needs to understand the
direction. Goals provide the road map for action.
Successful leaders, in HR or
any other discipline, embrace goals. They support them, can explain them and
use them to guide their work. Your morale, and the morale of those around you,
has got to improve when you tackle tasks and share plans that go beyond
covering the work left in empty cubicles.
After communicating a staff
reduction too often managers actually tell employees, “Now you have to do the
work of three people.” It’s a good time to set a goal to identify whether this
is really necessary. If the company, business or client list is smaller, do all
of the same tasks need to be done?
Sure there are some people
who just like to wallow and whine, actions that have a negative affect on
morale in any economic climate. Listen, a bit, and then take the bold step of
asking them, “What can you do to change the situation?” Remind them of company
goals and realities and that their negativity is not a constructive factor in
The last thing you should do
after you have made the tough staff cuts is to get stuck in your own rut of
negativity. The deeper you dig the hole by reinforcing the downside the harder
it will be to get out. When your reputation changes from Darth Vader to Homer
Simpson it will be really hard to gain favor and your own name is more likely
to be on the next layoff list.
There are always the stress
relievers of eating right, getting exercise and relaxation exercises. I prefer
a cup of coffee and getting to work. Do you have any other tips to handle these
inevitable drops in morale?