How to manage after a layoff

For many managers, the last few months have been a particularly brutal exercise of navigating layoffs.

As a manager, you are typically on the front lines of a layoff, involved in the actual exercise of letting people go – which is stressful and daunting. You’re also critical in maintaining the morale of remaining employees, retaining your top talent, and motivating your teams to continue to make progress towards your goals. This is not an easy feat, particularly when you’ve likely also been personally impacted by the stress and uncertainty of these events.

That said, the period post-layoff is an incredibly important time for teams, and one managers can use to reset your team’s direction and energy levels, and quash any underlying toxicity. To help, we’ve put together this how-to guide to help you manage post-layoff and continue to inspire your team to achieve the best outcomes.

Immediately post-layoff: addressing your team

In the absence of information, people will create a narrative so it is best that you provide one for them early, and reinforce it often.

People need to hear something 6-12 times to retain it. You haven’t shared “the why” too much – I promise. Share the why behind the decision, the steps that were taken for those let go, and the plan for work distribution. And yes, your company probably cascaded this information, but as their manager, people will come to you first. Again, people will find a narrative. Make sure it is the right one.

Here are some things to consider as you’re talking with your team:

  • When explaining the layoff, refer back to your organization’s mission/ purpose
  • Call out that everyone processes these things differently, and that you’re here to support people in whatever way is most helpful to them. You can use a script like, “Hi team, I recognize that this news will hit everyone differently and we all process in different ways. I am here for you if you want to talk.”

Have 1:1 conversations with direct reports

Now is the time to make sure your team has regular touch points with you. 1:1s are an important forum for them to be able to ask questions they aren’t comfortable raising in a group setting, and for you to reinforce the importance of their role.

Here are some ways to make these 1:1s most valuable:

  • Address survivors’ guilt in 1:1s. Label it. Talk about it in an introspective 1:1. “Hey, how are you feeling about the layoffs? What questions or unknowns do you have?”
  • Lean into your positive feedback practices – make sure that each person on your team hears what they’re doing well and why it matters (in very specific terms)
  • Double down on individual progression paths – helping people focus on their futures with the team and company (whenever this is possible/authentic). Progression paths do not have to be complicated:
    • Where are your career goals in 6 months, 12 months?
    • What skills do you need to get there?
    • Which do you have?
    • Which do you need to build?
    • What education, exposure or experience do you need to build those skills?
    • Of those – which ones can we accomplish? Which ones do we need external support for?
  • If you manage managers – do a skip level with the reports of your managers. Ask “How are you feeling?” “Do you have any questions?” “Are there any unknowns?” “How can I help you move forward?” “How can I support your career goals?”
  • Need a 1:1 template? Here’s ours.

Creating space

Everyone processes information and news in their own ways, it’s OK to have big feelings about what’s happened. Here’s how you can create an environment that helps your team make sense of the situation:

  • Encourage your direct reports to take a moment to feel the emotion and reflect. It is OK to have big feelings about this. Give space. You can say, “Hey, I expect that you are having a lot of feelings about this. That is OK. I am here to help you process (or not). Please process in a way that is effective for you but know I am here if you need me.”
  • Schedule Office Hours for your team. Label the calendar invite as “Optional Office Hours” so your direct reports know there’s open time to discuss with you if need be.

Communication tips (written & verbal)

After layoffs, clear, two-way communication is vital to ensure your team gets the support they need and expectations are managed. When communicating with your team, consider the following:

  • Many times after these types of events, people just need to be heard and you jumping in to help or handle may not be what they actually need. Ask your reports to label their asks as:
    • Hear (“I need you to hear me”)
    • Help (“I need you to help me with this”)
    • Handle (“I need you to handle this for me”)
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep (i.e. “there won’t be any more layoffs”). Unless you know for certain (with a crystal ball) that there won’t be more, don’t promise this, even though it is tempting.

Post lay-off activities

The post lay-off period gives managers an opportunity to refresh, reset, and regroup with their teams. Here are some ways to boost energy levels and rebuild team connections:

  • Schedule trust and morale-boosting team activities. Find out what would excite your team and be the most inclusive activity for the majority (you can do a simple google survey). Wherever possible, hold the activity within working hours so you’re not asking anyone to stay late to hang out.
  • Revisit the motivation maps of each of your direct reports (if your team hasn’t done this exercise, Mintable Managers can download our Motivation Map template here. If you’re not in our community, you can download it here). Ask them to update their statuses across their motivations and discuss ways that you can help improve anything in the red/yellow zones.

Take time to process yourself

Your direct reports aren’t the only ones who have been impacted by layoffs – you most likely need to process the news as well. Take a moment to feel the emotion and reflect yourself. Find a safe space to do this (it most likely will not be in front of your team, it may be with your manager).

Whether you agree or disagree with decisions, you must commit. In order to commit, you usually need to be heard. Ensure you understand the why behind the decision and can get to commitment. Your team will know and it will usually help no one if you cannot get to commitment (again, you do not have to agree, but you do have to commit).

And remember...

Here are some final thoughts to keep in mind as you navigate this challenging period with your team:

  • Your company should have guidance and policies for how you as a manager are to communicate and respond to the layoffs. Please always refer to your internal policies as you implement these tips.
  • Be the expert in your company’s policies surrounding the layoff. You want to be able to answer the questions that will come from your team quickly and confidently.

We’re here to help! If you need more support or further resources, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].

Are you a founder or HR/People leader and would like to explore how The Mintable can help the managers in your organization thrive? Get your free demo here.