how to lead after layoffs

How To Lead After Layoffs

Layoffs are stressful for many, especially management and leadership. It is no easy task to tell someone that they will lose their jobs and feel the weight of all the implications that come with that. Knowing how to lead and prepare for a big layoff is essential for management and leadership in a company so that, moving forward, the employees that stay feel secure. Keep reading to know more about how to prepare for layoffs and how to lead after layoffs effectively. 

how management can lead after layoffs

Plan For The Layoffs

Companies do not just lay off people on a whim. Planning for a significant change in structure due to mass layoffs takes time. There are steps to be made to prepare yourself and your employees for dismissal. To break it down, we will go over the steps companies can take at each stage of layoffs; before, during, and after. 

What to Do Before Layoffs

Before a layoff happens, there are steps companies can take to prevent laying off more employees than they need to. For example, companies can cut salaries across the board (leadership and management included). While employees may grumble, it is better than telling them they've lost their job. Another way companies can try to prevent layoffs is by delaying hiring. If there are positions where it may be nice to have another employee, wait to hire employees to cut costs. Current staff may feel more of a work burden, but they will appreciate having work instead of losing their job due to financial problems within the company. 

However, sometimes the best intentions come undone, and job cuts will eventually have to happen. Here are three steps companies and management can take to prepare their employees before the layoff. 

  1. Prepare what management and leadership will say to employees that are leaving, as well as the staff that stays. Be clear and concise, and help ALL employees know the reasoning behind the layoffs. Allow for some questions, and be prepared for various emotions from remaining employees. 
  2. Plan for how to support those that are staying. Supporting remaining employees and management includes understanding that even though these employees were able to keep their job, they will still have strong feelings about the layoffs. Work closely with human resources to provide the surviving employees with the needed support. 
  3. Plan for any restructuring of roles. Inevitably with layoffs, job responsibilities and specific positions will have to be restructured to make up for employees that left the company. Some remaining staff will feel the weight of more responsibility, so ensuring that they have enough support during any changes made is crucial. 

What to Do During Layoffs

This will be a stressful time for all employees and management. Hopefully with planning for the layoffs, management will feel less stressed. However, letting people go from their jobs and informing them of such disappointing news is always challenging. Here are three steps management can take during layoffs to help ease the stress and better lead employees that are staying. 

  1. Understand survivor's guilt and how you will address it. Survivor's guilt is a real thing that employees will likely feel after a layoff. They will feel sad for their co-workers that left (especially if they were close and shared personal life details). Forbes describes survivor's guilt as "experiencing remorse that one has "survived" a layoff when your colleague didn't." To understand more about how to support those who may feel survivor's guilt and what survivor's guilt is, check out this article.
  2. Be clear and direct with any communication. As stated, the layoff period can be very stressful for all. Current employees will feel the stress of wondering if their job is safe. To combat any rumors or upset employees, communicate clearly about why the layoffs happened. During this time, try to avoid hypotheticals as it doesn't help employees feel secure in their positions. 
  3. Stay confident when communicating. Staying optimistic while still being realistic while interacting with employees that are leaving and the employees that are staying helps everyone feel better. Staff members will not feel secure in their jobs if their management expresses fear or insecurity. 

What to Do After Layoffs 

Even though the hard part of informing past employees that they will be laid off is over, there is still a lot of work for current staff and the company. To help ease this stress, below are three tips for management to lead better after layoffs. 

  1. Exercise stay interviews with remaining employees. Stay interviews are a great way for employees to express concerns, be heard, and understand any changes within their job due to the layoffs. Stay interviews are also a simple and inexpensive way to improve employee experience, especially after a mass layoff.
  2. Offer support to the staff that stayed. As stated above, some employees may have strong feelings about the layoffs, and some are experiencing survivor's guilt. Aside from survivor's guilt, employees may feel stressed with new tasks and expectations during restructuring. Offering support could look like encouraging employees to take personal days, offering snacks or ordering lunch in the office, and more. Remember, support does not have to be expensive to be effective. 
  3. Keep communicating with current employees. After a mass layoff is a time to over-communicate with your employees to prevent any rumor spreading or other problems that come with little to no communication. 
    how to use kudoboard in the workplace

    Understand How Layoffs Affect Teams and Employees

    Another way for management to effectively lead after layoffs are to understand how layoffs will affect teams and employees throughout the company. Layoffs affect current staff in psychological and emotional ways, as well as the destruction of trust between management and employees that occurs. Read here to understand five more negative effects of layoffs. 

    Layoffs Ruin Trust

    When layoffs occur, current staff members will feel a myriad of emotions, including fear of losing their jobs and distrust for current management. The act of laying employees off cuts the connection between effort and reward. Employees may see those who were laid off as ones who worked hard in their position to lose their job. Furthermore, if companies handle layoffs poorly (with ineffective communication and preparation), employees will not feel they can maintain the trust they previously had in management. A way to prevent loss of confidence is through clear communication. 

    Psychological and Emotional Effects 

    It is a misconception and unfair to current staff members to assume they should "just be happy they got to keep their jobs" after a layoff. Many will feel anger, frustration, fear, and other strong emotions when their co-workers are laid off. 

    Once leaders have an understanding of how layoffs are affecting their employees, they can work with human resources towards boosting morale and rebuilding trust. 

    Five Tips For Leading After Layoffs

    Now that we've gone over all the adverse effects of layoffs, and how to prepare and plan for layoffs, management needs to understand more about how to lead after layoffs.  

    1. Avoid overworking. The employees that have stayed with the company will feel a significant burden post layoffs, the roles within their position may have changed, and they will worry if their jobs are safe. During this transition time, it is important not to overwork employees. Another thing to consider is the balance (and difference) between overworking and ensuring employees are satisfied with their workload. 
    2. Over Communicate. Yes, it has been said many times throughout this article. Keep communicating with employees, hold meetings with management and teams, so everyone is on the same page as the company moves forward. 
    3. Identify gaps in teams. With layoffs, there will inevitably be changes within positions. You may find that the person working on a project is now laid off, so that will have to be passed on. Make sure everyone is clear on their new roles. 
    4. Create a support network. Your employees that have kept their jobs will still need support, even though they aren't feeling the weight of looking for a new job. Work with HR to help ease some stress. This could be done through meetings where the staff can express their concerns about the layoffs. Remember, management and leadership will also need support, as letting people know they've been let go can feel stressful. 
    5. Recognize leaders' roles. Layoffs are a time to ensure that everyone is clear on their roles. Ensure leadership understands that they will be navigating rocky waters with current employees as they figure out any new responsibilities post-layoffs. This is also a time to remind current employees that their leaders care and want the best for the company and its employees. 


    Layoffs will be stressful for all; there is no getting around it. However, taking proper steps to prepare before, during, and after job cuts will help management, teams, and remaining employees easily transition into job life post-layoffs. Being a great leader includes understanding what employees need (not only during layoffs but all the time), so understanding how layoffs affect employees plays a massive part in effectively leading. Here is an excellent article about what employees are saying post-layoffs. Hopefully, through effective planning, companies won't feel as stressed during these trying times of inevitable job cuts and will have a better idea of how to lead after layoffs. 

    Jenni Berhold

    Jenni has been married for over a decade, and is a mother to three children. Jenni loves to help others by offering words of encouragement, advice, or a listening ear. Jenni loves to spend time outdoors, play the ukulele, and be with her family. She believes that every day is worth remembering, especially the good days.