Layoffs: safeguarding yourself and your employees

When tough times strike, how do you safeguard your mental health and that of your remaining employees? Mia Barnes is here to help.

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Layoffs can be a necessary evil when keeping a company afloat. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy process for anyone involved.

While the process is incredibly challenging for the laid-off employees, it can also take a mental toll on you and the employees who remain with the business. Here’s how to safeguard everyone’s mental health amid layoffs.

The effects of layoffs on current employees

Shake-ups in the workplace are always hard to navigate. Recent data shows 63% of layoffs in the UK are from cost-cutting, 28% came from decreased operations and 26% were thanks to reduced funding. Redundancies in the nation hit an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether your business is recovering or other issues arise, laying off workers is sometimes necessary.

Layoffs continue to increase and employees are feeling the strain. Nearly half of the workers in small and medium-sized enterprises say they’ve seen an increase in the redundancies their company continues to experience.

Workers seeing their colleagues forced to leave the enterprise makes them uneasy. If others are losing their jobs, who’s to say they won’t be next? Employees report their businesses are changing the narrative around layoffs, with some occurring in departments they thought were safe.

The uneasiness leads to cognitive dissonance for the remaining workers. There’s a feeling similar to survivor’s guilt. While they’re happy to remain employed, your employees also see their friends and co-workers losing some or all of their income. Human resources professionals often take the brunt of delivering the bad news and sorting through the severance paperwork. A study among UK and US employees found 98% of HR professionals feel burnt out.

Employees who remain after layoffs often feel on edge, fearing they’ll be next. That anxiety can influence mental health and impact their productivity. Author and executive coach Melody Wildling emphasises the ability of stress to contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Caring for employee mental health during and after layoffs

There are several ways you can help assure your employees after layoffs occur. By keeping the health and happiness of your remaining team in mind, you can strengthen and preserve morale.

Show care during layoffs

How you handle layoffs will impact your team members' feelings about the change. It's always challenging to witness people lose their jobs. You won't have a happy and cheery work environment as they occur, but you can soften the blow.

Your employees might be more than coworkers. Chances are, some get on well outside the office and will talk about your interactions with former employees. Kind words are nice, but they don't put food on the table. However, you can provide time for your former workers to find new employment by providing a generous redundancy package.

Offer more than the standard redundancy pay for each employee. Knowing they'll be able to maintain their lifestyle for a bit can soften the blow. It's also vital to offer your reference for their future employment enquiries.

Be transparent about the company

When you announce layoffs, you must be transparent with all employees about why you had to make that decision. Be honest about the company’s financial situation and explain how the cuts will allow your enterprise to progress.

You don’t want to cause undue panic, but letting your team know about upcoming redundancies can help them mentally prepare. Announcing someone’s termination as you eliminate their position can create a mental “whiplash,” leading to panic and distress. When you’re transparent with your remaining team about your business’s state and if future layoffs are possible, they can feel more secure in their workspace.

Maintaining your mental health during layoffs

Between managing layoffs and reassuring remaining employees, it's easy to neglect your mental health. Shaking up your employee's lives doesn't feel good and the stress of telling employees they're losing their jobs can weigh heavily on your mind.

Feeling overwhelmed can lead to extreme stress. Most UK citizens report feeling this way, with a 2018 study finding 74% feeling the impacts.

Other symptoms include forgetfulness and irritability, which can impact your interactions with other employees and reduce their confidence in your ability to handle the redundancies. More than 90% of employees consider their relationship with their manager a key factor in remaining at their job. You don’t want to make them not trust your decision.

Here are some tips to care for your mind and body during layoffs:

  • Lean on loved ones: If everyone at work seemingly dislikes you during layoffs, it’s helpful to remember the people who love you no matter what. Spend time with friends and family who will listen and help you have positive experiences during the layoffs.
  • Talk to a professional: Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Just as you visit a medical doctor when you’re sick, you can see a therapist or psychologist about your mental health during difficult times.
  • Practice self-care: Take care of yourself during times of layoffs. Whether that means meditation, listening to your favourite music or having a good meal, there are many things you can do to take care of yourself. It can help you from becoming mentally and physically unwell.
  • Stay logical: There’s a reason you have to do layoffs. If there weren’t, you wouldn’t go through with it. As emotional as the time is for everyone, remember — you’re making the best long-term decision for your business.

Safeguarding mental health during layoffs

Conducting layoffs is a stressful but necessary process. Caring for you and your employees through the process is vital to keeping strong workplace relationships as you move forward.

Mia Barnes - Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine

Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher with over 3 years of experience in the field. With a specialization in workplace wellness, financial well-being, human factors, and ergonomics, her articles aim to educate and empower readers, providing them with practical tips and insights to enhance their overall well-being in various aspects of their lives. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Body+Mind magazine.

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