I am an executive leader for a giant global organization. Last week, massive layoffs were announced. I have a team of twelve direct reports with hundreds of people reporting up to them. I don’t know every person, but I know a lot of them.
Layoffs are going to be devastating for these people. There is a hush now when I come into the office. The sidelong glances, checking to see if I know something, are awful. I’m not even sure if I will have a job at the end of all of this.
What can I do to keep myself on an even keel? And how can I help people soldier on until the ax drops?
I have heard about this kind of thing, but have never experienced it myself.
Waiting for the Ax
Dear Waiting for the Ax,
I am sorry. This is one of the great pain points that goes with working in large organizations. The neuroscience research shows that our brains hate uncertainty and function less well in the face of it.
An organization that chooses to announce massive layoffs with absolutely no other information and plans to help leaders manage the process verges on irresponsibility. Sometimes there is a CHRO who works very hard to manage the emotional fallout of massive layoffs. More often, though, managers are on their own. It sounds like you are one of them—unless, of course, you can get some insights and/or direction from your boss, who is alarmingly absent from your scenario. That would be your first stop for help unless you already know there is no help to be found there. I hate how common this is.
You must take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. If there is anything you can do to make that happen, now is the time. Get exercise, eat properly, get some sleep, meditate. If it will make you feel better, update your LinkedIn and get started on an updated resume. Maybe get in touch with former colleagues and other members of your professional network in case you will be job hunting soon. Get support from family and friends.
In the absence of information, all you can do is try to make things as comfortable as possible. Pull your team together and surface all of their concerns, so at least people are talking and not just exchanging sidelong looks. You don’t want the conversation to devolve into a complaint session, but it will help people to have a safe place to vent. You can set up the discussion by requesting that no one share rumors, but simply share what they are feeling.
You can always re-direct with questions such as:
- What can you do to stay focused in the face of this uncertainty?
- What can I or another team member do to help you right now?
- How can we stay focused on what is working right now?
- Who is doing something that is helping them feel resilient that they can share with the group?
Let your people know what you know and what you don’t know and assure them that you will share any intel you get as soon as you get it. Encourage them to take care of themselves as much as they can. Give clear direction on what they need to stay focused on in order to keep moving toward team goals. Don’t let anyone get caught up in panicked overperforming because they think it might save their jobs. That will just add fuel to the fire.
Breathe. Tell your people to breathe.
Remember, you are intelligent and capable and you will be okay. Remind your people they are intelligent and capable and they will be okay.
Stay calm because it will help your people stay calm. Come what may.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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