You’ve Downsized Your Workforce. How the Heck Will the Work Get Done?

CHANGE MATTERS…. And How Do You Prevent An Employee Mutiny?

You’ve had a tough few years, and recently you’ve had to make some tough decisions about downsizing. The process has been stressful for everyone, and now that it’s done, you are hoping to see real results reflected on the bottom line – and soon.

But what about the employees left standing? They know it’s been a difficult few years, and they know that you had to make some tough choices. But they also know that their work environment has just changed – and that they’re probably have to going to do more work with fewer resources.

After a downsizing, it’s not unusual for an organization to experience low morale, high stress levels, and some general disgruntlement among workers. They’re struggling to handle an increased workload but the recent changes have them worried about their future – and that can be a productivity-sapping combination.

It’s easy for employers to dismiss these concerns, with a “They should be thankful they still have a job” attitude and a “Stop complaining and get back to work” approach. This is a mistake.

The people who survived the downsizing are very likely your top performers – that’s why you kept them. When you engage and support them through a difficult transitional period, you’ll not only keep them from looking for new opportunities elsewhere, but you’ll also encourage them to work more productively, which will get you the healthier bottom line you’re looking for.

You want these layoff survivors to take on new responsibilities and a faster, more efficient pace of work. Giving them the resources to do that is critical to the ongoing success of each department and, ultimately, the organization. Help the workers left behind by guiding them through a process to streamline their current workload. Getting rid of excess, non-productive work is a win/win: It focuses your team on doing only what delivers the best ROI, and it helps prevent burnout.

Here are some practical strategies for making the workload fit the work – and the workers:

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Identify key business imperatives: You already did a cost and efficiency audit as part of your downsizing process. Go back to this data and identify 5-7 key business imperatives for your company. Don’t choose 10, choose 5 or 6. And prioritize the 5. And then hold an all employee meeting or webinar to articulate the key business imperatives. This will give people a clear idea of direction and will discourage people from pursuing a ‘pet project’, even if it isn’t on the list.
Align tasks with key imperatives: Challenge your team to streamline their work, focusing only on what supports the established business imperatives. Make sure every employee knows that they will only be rewarded for the work they do to support those five imperatives. Engage stakeholders and solicit input – you might be surprised at how enthusiastic your people are to implement change that will drive demonstrable results more efficiently. And although it might not cut down their workload (although it would be good if it did), employees will respond more positively when they know exactly how their work will contribute to the bottom line.
Provide support: Ensure all your internal business partners are part of the solution and also consider providing alternatives for getting necessary work done by the established deadlines (such as funding temp resources, outsourcing additional IT or other time-consuming work, providing additional training, or creating new cross-disciplinary teams).
Institute a 24-hour time-off rule: Inform employees that no work will be done and no emails will be sent from midnight on Friday night to midnight on Saturday night. This gives overworked employees ‘official permission’ to take some downtime to recharge and reenergize. (If you need 24/7 coverage, institute a rotating on-call system so everyone gets some officially sanctioned time off.) This is critical. In our over-connected, digital world the lines between work and time-off has been blurred, if not completely erased. But in order for your employees to be as productive, creative and engaged as possible they need a block of time off where they are expected NOT to answer emails or do other work. Everyone needs time to recharge (including you).   You might consider 48 hours, but I find starting with 24 is a good place to start.
Be the best example: As the boss, your employees and peers are looking to you to set an example. Show them with your actions, attitude and demeanor that a leaner workforce doesn’t mean a burned-out, overworked, depressed workforce. Demonstrate a balance between your work and personal life, and your employees will feel more comfortable doing the same – and they’ll appreciate you for it. They will also reward you with higher productivity and an increase in morale – both of which will add to your bottom line. Setting a good example can, by itself, raise morale and productivity, which is a win-win for everyone.[/message][su_spacer]

Helping employees to streamline their workload – and feel more positive about their changed situation – not only results in improved productivity but will also give your business the edge it needs to survive in the new economy. A valued, engaged and energized workforce will give 120% to their work – which is the key to positioning the organization for long-term success.


Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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