Workplace Resolutions: Strengthening Company Culture After Layoffs: A Coaching Approach
Welcome to the second installment of our Workplace Resolutions series, where we reflect on pivotal headlines from last year and the ways that coaching could change the narrative for workplaces in 2024.
The Great Layoff Wave
The COVID-19 pandemic shook workforces around the world, simultaneously bringing us The Great Resignation – an empowering movement where employees willingly left their employers in droves – and massive waves of layoffs.
Layoffs and Discharges
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
With December’s total numbers yet to be announced, the first 11 months of 2023 already brought more layoffs and discharges than both of the years before it. Employees in the technology, retail, and healthcare industries were impacted most.
As layoffs ripple through organizations far and wide, employees are navigating an increasingly unstable corporate landscape where their livelihoods can change at a moment’s notice.
Life After Layoffs: Survivor’s Guilt
Amid the loss of colleagues and ever-increasing workloads, remaining employees are facing new, unprecedented challenges: survivor’s guilt and layoff anxiety.
Rather than feeling grateful to have survived an organization’s layoffs, those who remain employed often feel remorse for their dismissed colleagues. Unsurprisingly, leadership’s hopes to return to “business as usual” has been anything but as their remaining workforce absorbs these shockwaves.
Following a survey of more than 4,000 employees who were spared from layoffs, Leadership IQ reported that 74% of remaining employees felt declines in their own productivity.
Additionally, 69% observed a decline in the quality of their company’s products or services, and 77% felt that more errors and mistakes were being made on the job. Otherwise satisfied employees are also looking at their organizations differently after layoffs, with 87% feeling less likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work.
In addition to operating with fewer colleagues, employees are also operating with new fears: wondering if they’ll be next on the chopping block.
The Great Apprehension
While a new year may bring new hope, further research continues to cast a shadow. In December, Resume Builder reported that 38% of companies are likely to conduct layoffs in 2024, and more than half are likely to implement a hiring freeze.
In short: employees should continue to anticipate a landscape of job insecurity in the new year, along with increased workloads as organizations continue to operate with fewer employees.
While headcount reductions and hiring freezes are often the result of strategic cost-cutting measures, employees are paying a hefty price: their mental health.
APN surveyed leaders in the technology sector – a space heavily impacted by layoffs – and learned that 77% feel that layoffs have negatively impacted their health, with 38% reporting increased anxiety or depression.
Business leaders may argue in support of layoffs to support financial and operational course-corrections, but the distress that remaining employees experience as a result often persists without acknowledgement or repair.
Enter, The Great Apprehension.
Remaining employees are feeling stressed, fearful, and overworked as they continue clocking into work environments that lack trust, support, and care. If those relationships continue on unrepaired, dissatisfaction and burnout can permeate throughout an organization, further damaging the bottom line.
Sometimes company culture needs a course-correction, too. This is where the tenets of coaching can help! Let’s take a look at how.
2024: Rebuilding Company Culture and Employee Relationships
To strengthen a workforce in the wake of ongoing uncertainty, employee wellbeing is key.
How can leaders utilize a coaching lens to improve the engagement, effectiveness, and wellbeing of their employees in the face of layoffs and apprehension? This is a workplace resolution we explore in tandem with the following core coaching competencies upheld by the International Coaching Federation.
Cultivating Trust and Safety
“Creating a safe, supportive environment that allows the [employee] to share freely. Maintains a relationship of mutual respect and trust”
- ICF Core Competency
When navigating times of uncertainty, the ICF Core Competency of Cultivating Trust and Safety should take center stage for leaders, emphasizing support, empathy, and concern, as well as seeking to understand employees and their experiences.
Leaning into their coaching skills, leaders have the opportunity to co-create a new workplace culture alongside their employees to boost morale and engagement.
During times of instability and fear, leaders must harness a strong sense of self awareness as they begin to work in partnership with their employees. Leaders often take center stage, but this is a time where employees must be centered, understood, and cared for as they navigate the uncharted waters of layoffs and workload changes.
For leaders, this is a time to be of service, paying close attention to what employees need to move beyond survival and to begin thriving at work.
Active Listening and Awareness
”Facilitates [employee] insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning.”
- ICF Core Competency
Before action can be taken to restore organizational culture, leaders must understand what it is that their employees actually need. Leaders often pivot to motivational speeches during hard times, but employees don’t need cheerleaders. They need support.
The best way to get a sense of what employees truly need? Ask them.
During times of distress, leaders are more effective on the ground than they are from a control tower. This is the ideal time for leaders to roll up their sleeves and step into the environment that employees are experiencing every day.
As leaders join employees at their level, it’s important to practice self awareness. By bringing a sense of calm and teamwork into the mix, leaders can get curious:
- What do the workloads look like for their employees?
- How does the energy feel?
- What do employees need to feel more effective, cared for, and connected?
When employees and leaders have the opportunity to make direct contact, leaders are seen as part of the team. This, in turn, forms the foundation from which trust can grow. Use this time wisely to bear the burden of layoffs and increased workloads alongside employees. Engage with them to understand what it is that they need most, and where the challenges lie. Then, act on what you see and hear.
Once leaders have restored a sense of trust with employees by supporting them in the immediate moment, focus can shift to the future. What else do employees need to stay engaged and successful in the long run?
Embodying a Coaching Mindset
“Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.”
- ICF Core Competency
While layoffs and hiring freezes may be inevitable in 2024, leaders are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of the business and its employees, and coaching skills can be used to repair any gaps along the path to success.
On the job, this can look like creating a culture of ongoing development, equipping employees with skills that can carry them through times of growth, change, and uncertainty.
In the wake of layoffs, hiring freezes, or other cost-cutting measures, the employees who remain are vital to an organization’s success. If they feel stagnant, especially during times of uncertainty, they’ll likely search for stability elsewhere. Case in point? Employees cite lack of growth opportunities as one of the top reasons that they left their jobs in 2021. (Source: Pew Research)
Ongoing learning and upskilling in the workplace yields benefits for employees and leaders alike. When an employee is offered additional pathways for growth, it shows that the organization values them and their contributions. For organizations, the new skills that employees develop can be put to use quickly, filling the gaps that exist as a result of a reduced workforce.
In an environment where employees are seen, heard, and cared for, culture begins to shift. A workplace that was once filled with anxiety and apprehension could soon be transformed into an environment of resilience and restoration.
The Future of Work: Restorative and Resilient
“Resiliency is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility”
Resiliency is not one single skill, but the culmination of traits and conditions that allow an individual to sail through even the roughest waters.
During times of uncertainty in the workplace, resiliency has the ability to make or break an employee’s morale, engagement, and loyalty.
Resilient employees are confident in their abilities, have a support system, and have an optimistic view of the organization’s future. They’re also more likely to stick with their employer through hard times. (Source: Qualtrics)
As leaders are reckoning with the stress that their employees have endured after years of change and unrelenting layoffs, the opportunity for resiliency to bloom is NOW.
When a culture of coaching exists in the workplace, leaders have the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their employees, listen, and take decisive action. When employees are heard and supported through challenging times, trust and safety can be restored.
It is from this foundation of trust that a new culture can be built – one that honors curiosity, ongoing development, and resiliency.
The Workplace Needs More Coaches. Are You Ready to Become One?
The future of work is one that continues to be malleable. If 2023 has taught us anything, it’s that leaders and employees with people-centered skills are needed now more than ever to nurture communication, collaboration, and workplace cultures where people feel like they belong.
Whether you’re interested in launching your own coaching practice or bringing your skills into the departments and industries that need it most, Lumia’s Life Coach Training program can prepare you with the coaching toolkit you need for your unique professional journey.
Grounded in science, our International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited program includes robust curriculum and business instruction taught by a diverse and authentic group of instructors, with opportunities to connect with the coaching community and to learn alongside fellow students who are dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.