Building Employee Trust After Layoffs

Here’s how to boost employee morale and provide support to your staff as you begin to reopen your business.


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Building Employee Trust
Steps to reestablish trust and get employees to rebuild confidence in their job and your company

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive shutdowns and layoffs across the nation. As businesses begin to reopen and restaff, employees are concerned about job security.

Many wonder if they should even return to work, considering unemployment benefits packages offered by states and the federal government.

For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the challenges will be to reestablish trust in an uncertain economy, and to get staffers back to speed and comfortable in their roles.

The problem is complex and multifaceted. When workers are laid off their sense of security is shattered. Even with the most visible reason for the work stoppage, routines are disrupted, wages are impacted, and the responsibility to care for themselves and their families are threatened. When called back to work, those sentiments don’t disappear immediately. The threat is still present — particularly in today’s uncertain climate.

Another factor is morale. Employees see themselves as essential to their company, their industry, and to the economy as a whole. Even in the face of a life-threatening disease, invalidating those feelings can have a devastating effect. Stanford University reports a host of emotional and physical reactions to being laid off, citing the effects can be an “overwhelming and stressful experience of loss and change.” Once reinstated, the aftereffects of fear, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and more may not be immediately overcome.

Business owners will need to communicate clearly to address anxiety — as well as possible — in these unprecedented times, and work to rebuild confidence and morale.

Restore confidence 

Your business or industry may not return to 100% immediately, but for those employees you reinstate, it will be important to rebuild their confidence in their job and the company.

Now is the time to recognize and express how critically important every member of the team is to the success of the company.

Communicate value

Communication is key. For staff members who are back, consistently remind them of their value to the company. Further, remind them their good work can bring others back as well.

As businesses try to recover, every team member will be a critical component. While you cannot manage some factors — consumer confidence, for example — each member of the team can do their best to bring the company back to speed. That will require confidence that their work is valued by the business owner as well as the consumer.

If you can reopen your organization at full capacity, that level of confidence is easier to restore. But for many companies, a shift in the way we can do business until state mandates loosen will require creativity. Team members may be assigned new roles or may have to take on additional or differing responsibilities to weather the economic storm. There may be a resistance to change or a learning curve involved in adaptation. Consistent communication about their individual importance and the value of their efforts will be needed to restore confidence in their own performance and that their work is integral in reestablishing “business as usual” for themselves and others.

Recognize efforts and accomplishments

Boost team and individual recognition as much as possible during the transition. While financial rewards for work well done are likely not feasible in the near term, most employees are as satisfied with appreciation and a “job well done.” For the smallest of businesses, you’ve seen how challenging it has been to run your company without staff members. Now is the time to recognize and express how critically important every member of the team is to the success of the company.

Remind employees about the long term

Look out for the employees who may feel their return to work is a temporary measure. They may be uncertain they’ve made the right choice in coming back and losing unemployment benefits. Remind them that UI coverage was only short term, but their value to the organization is for the long haul.

Some staffers may think it’s time to jump ship. If you need your top performers to stay on board, make a special effort to keep them happy and engaged. Holding on to them today, as you begin to rebuild your company, will be worthwhile for long-term growth and sustainability.

Address emotional pain  

Staff members have certainly had some emotional, and possibly physical, reaction to being laid off. Whether they were let go because of mandated closures or economic conditions required reducing head count, there was fallout on the individual level. While many are anxious to get back to work following the boredom of sheltering in place, there may still be pain to overcome as they get back to old routines.

Acknowledgment is important. You know how this has affected you — the fears and concerns you held for yourself, your family, and your workers. They had the same fears. As you return to normal or the “new normal,” don’t discount those feelings. There may be uncertainty that the reinstatement will be long-term. Weeks of anxiety may not disappear overnight. The more support you can provide during the transition, the faster and smoother it may be.

Here are some ways you can provide support:

  • If your employees have access to counseling services, remind them those services are available during this time
  • For employees who don’t have access to counseling — let them vent. Oftentimes, verbalizing fears helps
  • If you can, bring together groups to discuss their concerns. Knowing others have the same worries you have provides validation
  • Address employee concerns as well as possible. No, you can’t make any guarantees — but you can assure staff that if you all pull together your chances of survival as an organization are greater

Address fear

As you recall workers, it will be important to have plans in place to distance, sanitize, and mitigate exposure risk.

A CBS News poll in late April found less than half of the 2,112 United States residents surveyed would be comfortable returning to the workplace. The fear of exposure to COVID-19 outweighed the necessity to return to work for many. The same poll found 36% of respondents already financially impacted by the lockdowns, with 41% admitting they could only hold on a few weeks longer.

While the fear of COVID-19 is legitimate, there are many mitigation steps employers can use to help reduce the possibility of transmission in the workplace. As you recall workers, it will be important to have plans in place to distance, sanitize, and mitigate exposure risk. Translate that information before employees return. For example, advising them temperatures will be taken at the door can help allay some fears and build employee comfort.

For those at the highest risk for significant outcomes if exposed, employers should not only offer the choice to not return to work. They should suggest alternate options, like working remotely if possible.

Building employee confidence and morale post-layoffs is challenging in any climate. With the threat of the COVID virus looming, it will take a more concerted effort on the part of business owners to alleviate fears and concerns. As we move away from mass layoffs and shutdowns, adaptability and acknowledgement of fears and concerns will be key to restarting careers, businesses, and the economy.


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