Staff morale can plummet during downsizing and other significant, enforced organisational changes. Managers have the very difficult task of dealing with their own concerns as well as trying to support their staff through the change, while maintaining an acceptable level of work output.
Strategies for maintaining staff morale in this situation (for those who still have jobs), could include:
- Provide as much information about what is happening as possible – e.g. use formal addresses by Senior Management to add legitimacy and recognition to the change and identify boundaries
- Provide opportunities to raise issues and concerns through forums, group discussion, work group meetings and private one-on-one interview – to allow all staff an opportunity to provide input to the changes and to discuss their concerns and ask questions
- Join a management forum to discuss problems you have encountered and how you have dealt with them – be prepared to share your experiences and learn from others as managers need support too
- Increase flexibility within the workplace – allow changes of process and positioning to provide temporary advantage or assistance to get the work done
- Raise staff awareness of the Employee Assistance Scheme or internal counselling services.
- Make the area a cheerful/comfortable place to be – put things away to create a tidy space, encourage staff to bring in pot plants and put up colourful, relevant posters.
- Encourage social activities – e.g. cakes at morning tea or an occasional lunch or a dress down day
- Use mentors/coaches to help individuals to build their knowledge and skills and take advantage of the change and opportunities that may present
- Provide training to broaden skills and knowledge bases and assist staff to take on more responsibility and greater variety in their work.
For those forced to leave, you could provide counselling and opportunities to explore personal preferences and interests that could lead to a change of career (e.g. through Diagnostic Testing. Interest Inventories). Staff who have lost their jobs often have a high need for technical information such as “how to prepare a competitive CV” or “how to improve interview performance”. If you can access relevant training for your staff, this will help to reduce anxiety about their future career.
It is difficult to stay positive and build staff morale when you are confronted with sadness, grief and anger as well as uncertainty and anxiety. It is important that you look after yourself, your own health and fitness during these challenging times. You should consider accessing the Staff Assistance Scheme yourself if you feel you need help. Managers who have overcome their initial reticence and sought such assistance, often report how it enabled them to restore their personal balance and adopt a more constructive approach to their downsizing situation.
Managers are very prone to burnout during downsizing, so it is important to monitor your own health and physical/ emotional reactions.