How should companies control layoff anxiety

Helping employees manage layoff anxiety is an important part of employee engagement.


Pick up the newspaper and there is bound to be at least one story about some organisation downsizing or slashing jobs in order to cut costs.

Simply reading such news day in and day out makes professionals anxious, worried and restless. During such fluid times, when the economy is going through a disturbing slump, it is the duty of the leaders and HR personnel in organisations to take the necessary steps to put employees’ layoff anxiety at ease.

Research shows that most professionals, at least 47 per cent, are not prepared to handle a layoff. Women are the most unprepared whereas the percentage of men who are not ready to handle a layoff is less (41 per cent).

Also, those who have their own property or house are less anxious than those who reside in rented accommodations. It is also natural for employees with kids who are yet under 18 to feel more anxious than those without children or with kids who are older.

Layoff anxiety, if managed well, can actually improve productivity, and check turnover.

So how exactly can employers address the fears of their employees and prepare them for the unexpected changes in the business environment?

Here are a few simple steps to manage layoff anxiety:

1. Check rumours: If the company does not intend to downsize any time soon, it is essential to let the employees know that. Otherwise, rumours will abound and there will be panic amongst the employees.

2. Share decisions with employees: It is natural for employees to be scared of what they do not know. Therefore, it is important to keep them in the loop whenever major decisions are taken—if there is a change in management or a drastic shift in business. Sharing of decisions with the workforce becomes even more important if the company has undergone a merger or acquisition.

3. Ensure that employees possess relevant skills at all times: It is important for organisations to ensure that their workers are in possession of the latest knowledge in their respective fields. Layoffs impact employees with outdated skills more than those that are reskilled or upskilled. Employees with current skills are likely to be more confident about landing a new job in case of a layoff, and will only be grateful to their employer for facilitating the updation of their skills.

4. Encourage employees to save: It is a good idea for organisations to coach their employees on managing their finances and saving for a rainy day. Employees who have no savings are most impacted when they lose their jobs. Let employees know the benefits of saving and making intelligent investments. Convey to them that it is good to save, if, God forbid, a layoff becomes inevitable at any point of time.

5. Prepare them in advance: The need to slash jobs can emerge all of a sudden. Therefore, the workforce has to be kept prepared. This can be done effectively if there is a layoff plan, which details the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of cutting down the workforce.

6. Help those laid off with new jobs: Workers who are laid off undergo a lot of stress thinking about the future and their families. The organisation should offer to help them find new jobs. This will ensure that the laid off employees do not harbour ill feelings towards the company. There have been too many cases of former employees suing their employers on various grounds, simply because their relationship had soured. A plan for outplacement can be drawn up when there is no layoff in the offing, just so that everyone is well prepared and accepts the plan in good spirit.

Layoffs affect the ones who lose their jobs as well as the ones who survive. While the ones rendered jobless are anxious about what the future holds for them, the ones who are left behind are overcome with guilt. No matter which side the employee belongs to, it makes sense to be prepared for such a situation. And it is the responsibility of the HR to ensure this preparedness. Today, employees are smart enough to understand that layoffs can be announced any moment. They will be happier at work, very much at ease and more engaged if they are confident that their employers have prepared them well to handle a layoff, if at all, it happens. They will be able to give their best knowing that their employer will not spring a surprise.

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