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Change, Transition, and Resilience Following a Layoff

Change happens on a daily basis in our organizations and it affects every individual in a different way. Even during a reduction in force, HR leaders can expect a variety of reactions both from those employees being transitioned out of the company during the layoff and from those employees remaining. Most of the time, HR leaders spend a lot of time, effort, and thought preparing for the layoff and the actual notification process. The one element they tend to put off until well after the layoff, is a plan for returning remaining teams to productivity and dealing with the emotions and reactions of people who witness their friends and colleagues being asked to leave.

In a recent #SmartTalkHR webinar, Building Resiliency with Surviving Employees After a Layoff, I discussed some strategies to engage the employees who remain after a reduction in force. You can view the webinar in its entirety here.

Below is a short summary of the webinar and my comments, including:

  • Defining change, transition, and resilience
  • The stages of change
  • How to best manage through change
  • How to help your organization and your people be more resilient

Change, transition, and resilience

 Change can be good or bad. It can be something positive, like a promotion, or it can be less than positive, like a layoff. Although there are lots of different kinds of change, it’s a fact of life. Whether it’s positive or negative, planned or unplanned, change happens. How people react to change can be the difference between an organization that is able to withstand events, like layoffs, and those that continue to struggle due to lost productivity and poor employer brand image.

Understanding how to motivate individuals and build teams that can work through change to find renewed optimism and purpose requires understanding some of the terms around change – transition and resilience.

Transition is the psychological process that someone goes through when adapting to change. Again, both good and bad. Feelings run the gamut when it comes to change. Just because change is positive, it doesn’t mean all the feelings associated with it are going to be positive, and vice versa.

Resilience is all about the ability to recover readily from adversity and bounce back from change stronger and wiser. If you think about resilience in relationship to your team at work, you can probably imagine a couple of people who really stand out as resilient – those that are able to adapt quickly to change. They don’t dwell on the past or overthink their failures. They really look forward and move forward. Resilient team members have a certain point of view – they feel like they are the masters of their fate and that the results they get and the experiences they have are within their control.

People who are naturally resilient tend to:

  • See change as an opportunity for growth and learning
  • Adapt quickly
  • Accept change either immediately or over a short amount of time

Not everyone is naturally resilient, but most people can be taught how to think and act more resiliently. There are many things that business leaders can do to encourage the people in your teams to be more resilient. Resilience is like a muscle. If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, perhaps your muscles are not what you’d like, but if you go and spend the time and lift those weights, your muscles are going to grow. It’s very much the same with resilience.

Just as you can visualize people on your team who are naturally resilient, you can probably bring a few people to mind who use ineffective coping strategies and don’t deal well with change.

People who do not experience change well tend to:

  • Experience anxiety and fear
  • Feel depressed
  • Remain in denial that the change is real

The psychology of change

 When we experience a particularly challenging change, our brains go into fight or flight mode. To understand how we process emotion, let’s look at the three brain systems involved when we are faced with big change, like a layoff.

There are three systems of the brain that contribute to fight or flight.

  1. The cerebellum – an ancient part of the brain that controls motor function and our basic for survival, like breathing
  2. The limbic system – the reactionary part of our brain, here our emotions and our visceral reactions live. This is where our flight or fight reactions stem from
  3. The cerebral cortex – the action part of our brain that processes information, makes decisions, and decides how we will perceive something

Understanding these systems helps us to understand, and manage other people, and ourselves, as we face drastic change — such as being laid off. The emotional response to that circumstance originates in our limbic system — the instinct to fight or flee. That instinctual reaction is then filtered through the prefrontal cortex, which is that human filter that incorporates our past experiences and our natural tendencies. Finally, we have our chosen action, the way we decide to respond to a situation at hand. This is where resilience comes into play.

People who are resilient choose to respond to adversity differently than those who are not resilient. Before we can build resilience in our teams and in individual employees, we first have to deal with the immediate emotional reaction.

The five stages of transition

People who are affected by a layoff go through five stages of transition, much like the stages of grieving. You would probably expect that people who are losing their jobs are going to feel a range of emotions through a period of time.

What people don’t often expect is that the people who are not losing their jobs, but are staying at the company, oftentimes feel the same emotions. While those emotions may not be felt in the same way, or in the same degree of intensity, remaining employees will still be affected by the same emotions experienced by those who are transitioning out of the company.

The stages of transition for remaining employees:

  1. Denial and shock
  2. Depression and stress
  3. Panic and guilt
  4. Resentment, skepticism, anxiety
  5. Renewed optimism

Most often, remaining employees do not experience positive feelings during the layoff process. Instead, they may be frustrated and withdrawal or continue on as though nothing has happened while experiencing negative emotions privately.

Highly resilient employees will be able to process their emotions quickly and return to productivity, while others will need more time and guidance through the process. The goal, of course, is to get everyone on the team to the last stage – renewed optimism. That’s where you’ll find the high energy, openness to learning, and renewed commitment to the group or role.

It’s important to remember that everyone doesn’t go through these emotions in the same order, or over the same amount of time. Some employees may feel optimistic at the onset and then become depressed or anxious as time goes on. Training managers up front to be prepared for these emotional stages and teaching them to keep an eye out for the reactions of staying employees will help everyone move through the stages of transition in a positive fashion. Getting to a place of renewed optimism is, of course, best for productivity but also – and probably more importantly – best for each individual’s own well-being.

In the webinar, I discuss in detail what company leaders can do to lead their teams to productivity and personal well-being, including:

  • Remaining present and accessible
  • Adopting an attitude of empathy
  • Proactively communicating
  • Creating short-term goals for teams and individuals
  • Building resilience in the long-term

To find out some concrete strategies for moving remaining employees from anger and despair to optimism, productivity and well-being, view the webinar in its entirety here.

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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How to Leverage Company Benefits to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

One-third of organizations have increased their overall benefit offerings in 2016, according to a research report compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As recruiting and retaining top talent continue to become increasingly difficult for employers, robust benefit packages play a key role. When salaries and perks (think: free lunch) are nearly equal from company to company, employees are likely to opt for the company that offers the best benefits and greatest opportunities.

Medical and financial benefits aside, employees are looking for lifestyle and career benefits. SHRM reported that the top reason employers increased benefits in 2016 was to remain competitive in the marketplace—and the three biggest focus areas for change were in the health (22%), wellness (24%), and professional and career development (16%) categories. Robust benefit packages that include career development, health and wellness, and flexible working options provide a platform for employers to stand out. Nearly one-third of employees look for external positions because they desire “overall better benefits,” second only to higher compensation.

The type of benefits you offer speaks volumes on how you treat and support employees, which always manifests by way of your external employer brand. It’s not enough to say “we have great benefits,” because “great benefits” are now table stakes. Companies have mastered the art of talking about perks, from catered lunches to team building activities. Failure to talk about the real support and development opportunities you offer to employees might translate to missed opportunities. So how can hiring managers and recruiters promote employee benefits to help with recruiting and retention?

#1: Kick “industry standard” out of your vocabulary

When recruiters and hiring managers list their company’s benefits and summarize with the catch-all phrase, we offer “industry standard” benefits, it’s not enough. When all else—compensation, vacation days, and perks—are even, offering a standard benefits package won’t help your company standout enough to secure commitment from a top employee. Even though it might be tempting to default to a quick response, it pays to provide more detail about the benefits your company offers, in length, during the interview process.

And even more importantly than providing a laundry list of benefits (but kudos to you for that list!), explain how these benefits fit in with core company values. For example, if you offer flexible work arrangements and flexible hours, explain that these arrangements support your company’s value of work-life balance. If you provide a gym membership or showers at work, talk about how it enhances company culture or creates opportunities for employees to get the exercise they desire in a convenient way.. When recruits begin to see how your benefits support their shared values and interests, they’ll see the benefits you offer are much greater than “industry standard.”

Employers hoping to keep a competitive edge are offering more than the “industry standard” at every stage of the employee journey, including at severance – according to a recent study by RiseSmart. If you’re on the cutting edge of severance offerings, use those benefits to differentiate your company form the competition.

#2: Talk about goals in the recruiting and interview process

Before an employee is even hired, find out what they’re looking for in their employer and what their short and long term goals are. Ask questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and “How are you hoping your employer will support you along your career journey?” Employees, many of whom are seeking opportunities for career development and continuing education, need to know you plan to invest in their individual career goals.

A Career Builder survey found that 45% of employees, regardless of generation, plan to stay with their employer for less than two years. During their tenure, they expect to benefit and grow with each new role and and at each new company. It’s important to convey to prospective employees that you invest in each individual employee, regardless for how long they plan to stay in the role for which they are being hired.

#3: Amplify the employee voice

Remind employees early on that they have a voice to share about company culture and employee benefits. Glassdoor, for example, recommends employers invite new hires to reflect on their first few months at the company. Whether this leads to internal feedback or a public review, it can assist efforts aimed at creating a positive employer brand.

L’Oréal recently launched a #LifeatLoreal hashtag to encourage employees to share photos of their experiences at work. The campaign all stemmed from the idea that people would trust their peers on social media when it came to L'Oréal being a great place to work. Employees posted a wide variety of pictures, including snapshots of various benefits and perks in action—such as flex days and catered lunches. Encourage employees to share the experiences they enjoy the most on the social channel of their choice.

#4: Keep employees engaged with benefits

On average, salary is only about 70% of an employee’s total compensation. When employees don’t take advantage of the benefits offered by the company, it’s equivalent to leaving 30% of the total compensation package on the table. Employers who keep employees engaged with benefits are more likely to see benefits manifest as part of the employer brand. An employee is highly unlikely to leave a Glassdoor review that mentions a positive benefit if she has never actually utilized the benefit.

Try hosting monthly or quarterly Q&A sessions to discuss available benefits. When you roll out a particularly hefty benefit, such as a new 401K offering, or an update to parental leave policy, give employees ample opportunity to ask questions. You could also share success stories from employees who have taken advantage of a particularly niche benefit, such as an hour of free lawyer services, to showcase how the benefit is used and encourage other employees to check it out.

#5: Benefits are the forgotten negotiation tool

If you are a hiring manager or recruiter engaging with a candidate, think beyond salary, or equity. Everything is negotiable, from vacation days to health insurance choices. Savvy employees, especially as the war for talent continues to heat up, will use benefits as negotiation tools—but don’t shy away from doing the same thing on the employer side. It’s often easier to offer more benefits than to secure additional salary for an employee.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your full complement of benefits, including your severance benefits. Prospective employees may feel more comfortable about joining a company that will take care of them, in the event of a downsizing or restructuring event. You may want to consider offering perks like outplacement and career transition services to employees who leave voluntarily as well as those who are involuntary subjects of a layoff. Knowing that you are invested in their career, even after they leave, will help you create a workforce of dedicated, engaged, and satisfied employees.

The world is small and everyone is connected. When you invest in employees, it leads to a positive employer brand. In the new Employee Relationship Economy, former employees will someday become vendors, customers, brand evangelists, recruiting references, or even boomerang employees. In a world where the employee/employer relationship is no longer finite, it’s important to convey your full support for employees’ career endeavors at every stage of their career journeys -- beginning early in the recruiting and interview process.

In every recruiting conversation, highlight your dedication to each employee’s career. When you frame up your organization’s benefits in context of how they fit in with the employee’s journey, it’s easy for the candidate to see how your company would support his journey. Communication about employee benefits can go a long way in the recruiting process—and will have a direct impact on your employer brand. If you offer much more than “industry standard,” you should be screaming it from the rooftops. Your current and prospective employees deserve to understand just how committed you are to their personal and professional journey.

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