07 March 2024 |

📓 crisis to compassion

By Hebba Youssef

✍🏽 My company is going through layoffs. It has killed the morale at work: everyone is distrusting of senior leadership and resentful towards the ED. How can management restore trust that was lost? How does a company recover from layoffs and low morale? How does an organization use a humanitarian lens to conduct business in a way that makes employees feel valued and heard? What are practical things they can do to show respect, appreciation, and care?

Context: 37 people, 4 million revenue, non profit

📣 Dana Whiteaker, Career Coach at Grateful Culture:

The worst thing you can do as an organization is to ignore the elephant in the room. The more time passes, the harder it will be to rebuild trust in such a small organization.

It will take many small, intentional acts to rebuild trust but staying open to suggestion and acknowledging the reality of situation can go far.

Sometimes it helps to bring in a 3rd party to provide specific pointers to leadership when they can’t see the forest from the trees

📣 Morgan Stanley, Head of People at Lithic:

I agree with Dana. In this situation, communication, transparency and accountability are the only way through. I would communicate the plan forward with the new goals following the RIF, I would be transparent about how the company plans to achieve those new goals in light of the loss of the team members, and finally, if no one has yet – I would take accountability for the decisions that led to this outcome.

In terms of communicating the plan forward – if the leadership team hasn’t done a capacity planning exercise in light of the new goals, they should. It is important to understand the amount of work the existing team will take on and if it is feasible. Especially as I can assume they won’t be doing any hiring any time soon.

Last thing: prepare your managers. If the managers do not have the FAQs and talking points of the situation it will only breed more mistrust and confusion.

📣 Cassandra Babilya, Sr. Communications Manager, Voice of the Employee at Amazon Web Services: 

I couldn’t agree more with Morgan. The capacity planning exercise should be your top priority, otherwise you run the risk of trying to squeeze more out of your people, burning them out, and driving further attrition… which perpetuates the cycle.

Another way to build trust is to bring employees into developing the solution (whether that be further cost-savings or innovative ways to expand capacity/efficiency). Give them a chance at ownership of the challenges going forward.

Finally, I would be as transparent as possible with the team about the driving factors behind the RIF, what other paths the leadership team considered before resorting to a RIF, and what the mid-long term outlook of the company now looks like.

📣 Sondra Norris, Founder of Ultimate Manager Enablement:

The answer I choose here is perhaps deceptively simple: it’s the same as what one individual person must do when trust in them is broken and they want to restore it.

You have to EARN the trust back. Little by little, step by step.

With such a small company, people feel the losses acutely – these are people that they probably know well.

Transparency about the business is important and I’d frame it in a specific way:

  1. What are the things that are most important to the leadership about they way they conduct their business, about how they want their place of business to contribute to the lives of their employees, beyond being a place to make a living? For example – we want this to be a place of great trust, where people feel supported, where people feel they can be themselves, where people can return to their homes and families energized by a great day of work – not just because of the work they accomplished but also because of how it feels to work there.
  2. And then some admissions about what they missed that led to a RIF being necessary. Where did they take their eyes off the ball? What were the shortcomings of the leadership that led to this, for example – did they not do a great job of decision-making? Did they place the wrong bets? With an explicit acknowledgement that it is 100% reasonable for everyone here today to have lost faith – and that they want to earn it back little by little.
  3. Take actions that are directly and explicitly connected to the type of company they want to run. For example – everyone at the company knows all the places in the company that are messed up. Everyone must feel safe talking about those things. Just saying, “It’s safe, so please share,” probably won’t work the first time. Leadership has to demonstrate patience and knowledge of what it takes for humans to trust humans. Leadership has to show up as a cohesive body. Leadership has to materially act in ways that address whatever the employees bring up as important to them to fix.
  4. I agree with the comment above about educating managers about change and grief. The managers themselves need their own time to process and the space and examples to restore their own faith in leadership before they can be expected to be a safe landing for the employees working for them.
  5. When the affected, displaced employees find new things to do, that should be publicly celebrated. A letter home should be sent to every affected employee noting the positive impact they had on the company.
  6. A letter home should be sent to the survivors.
  7. Do NOT use the word resiliency – that just equals “Keep working harder even though you don’t trust us right now.”
  8. Do not spend money on anything that can be viewed as frivolous by the remaining employees.
  9. Set short-term goals and, get employee feedback and input, and it will feel like over-communicating, but do it anyway. Here’s where we want to be in 30 days. In 30 days, have a meeting that shows progress.
  10. Ask for small trust, prove it. And keep doing that.

Like so many questions on the contribute channel – this is a huge one.

✍🏽 How to handle a leader/manager being toxic to our employees and them coming to me because they’re scared to go to hr themselves? I haven’t personally heard these comments but do believe they are happening.

Context: Sales, company size is 200+ stores, but I’m part of a store with around 15-20 employees

📣 Morgan Stanley, Head of People at Lithic:

This is tricky – people often view HR as the ‘company man’ but they don’t actually give HR the opportunity to prove them wrong.

I would recommend a couple of things:

  1. When employees come you, let them know that you take this seriously and you appreciate that they came to you. I would encourage them to go to HR as that is the team who is the best equipped to handle the situation and actually do something about it. If they are really nervous, offer to go with them. If HR doesn’t know it is happening, or doesn’t have concrete proof it is happening, nothing will ever change.
  2. You can also go to HR and say ‘I’ve had a few employees (no names!) who have come to me with concerns about X and Y. I am trying to encourage them to come to you and will continue to do my best but I wanted you to know that this is occurring.’

📣 Heather Weidekamp, exploring new opportunities:

I’m sorry that you and your team are experiencing this. The fact that these employees are coming to you means that they trust you and that’s a good thing! Be sure that you are listening intently and ask your employees what outcome they would like to see, that could guide you to your next step. You could also offer the 2 options that Morgan outlined above, really great ideas. The important thing is to take it seriously, treat it with confidentiality, and try to foster trust in their HR team.

You could also suggest to HR that they create some form of anonymous reporting for situations like this where the employee is not comfortable going to them directly. Good luck!

📣 Halai Shukran, VP of Talent & Culture at Pluribus Digital:

+1 to Morgan’s comments above.  You have definitely built trust at your organization and that is extremely valuable.  Kudos to you for that.  I do believe this can get tricky if you yourself are also a leader at the company.

  1. As a leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are also reporting anything that comes across your desk to HR.  If a leader is aware of something, a company can still be held liable for “not acting on it / doing anything).  You do not need to share details, but share that there may be situations that you have been made aware of that involves a toxic manager / potentially a toxic workplace. 
  2. As a leader, continue to communicate downward that your workplace has a speak up culture and that bringing these things to HR is encouraged so that it can be handled appropriately following company protocol.

📣 Ruthie Garelik Berson, HR Business Partner at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.:

Such a tough situation — agreed with all the previous suggestions and would add a few nuances:

  1. Sometimes people want to understand “what happens now” before they are fully comfortable opening up. I find it helpful to paint the picture of what HR does with the info to resolve the issue over time, eg “i will keep it confidential unless I have to act upon it and report it further,” “depending on the info we may ask others about their experience to see if this is wider spread but will not make where the original intel came from,” and “if we don’t know about it, we cannot help address it so we may address it with the manager named so that we can coach them and shift the behavior.”
  2. checking back regularly with the employees and being present in regular team spaces so that you’re not only in touch when there’s an issue – that helps brand HR as a true partner not just the “police” or “bearer of bad news”
  3. When addressing the manager who needs feedback, definitely sanitize the feedback so it’s “I’ve been made aware that things like X are happening” and being specific about what good would look like. Eg how could they have phrased things to be more supportive and constructive? I’m guessing here but again find it resonates to show them how they could do this differently and better vs just pointing out the issue or what didn’t work.

good luck!!!