Help your staff understand their old
environment is gone. In its place is a new career landscape
seeded with opportunity.
Downsizing, rightsizing, restructuring and
reductions-in-force (RIFs) continue to dominate the headlines.
Every day, more people lose their jobs with slim hope of
finding another—particularly one with equal pay and
benefits. Television cameras show us long lines—lines at
job fairs and lines at the unemployment office. Even lines at
Chick-Fil-A for free sandwiches. Without a doubt, times are
tough for the unemployed.
But times are tough for those left standing, too. Workers
who have avoided the pink slip are left to carry on with
reduced resources, a heavier workload, little hope for pay
increases and bonuses, and the dark cloud of uncertainty
looming over their shoulders. Some struggle with
survivor’s guilt. Certainly puts the “eek!”
When the landscape is menacing, falling into an unproductive
funk is understandable, but it’s self-defeating and
counterproductive. So, too, is acting like your firm
can’t live without you. Either option could end up
costing you your valued job. Instead of falling into apathy and
inertia, be resilient and keep your eyes open for the silver
lining. Even in this economic miasma, there are abundant
opportunities to be had.
Whether you’re a manager trying to keep your staff
engaged or one of those left standing after a downsizing, look
at hardships not as brick walls but as windows of opportunity.
Focus on the positives and see if they don’t help you to
keep moving forward.
Surviving a downsizing means your
contribution is important. Many employees experience
survivor’s guilt—that nagging feeling that he or
she said or did something that caused someone else to be fired
instead of them. If you are one of these employees, know that
you were retained not because you did something bad, but
because you did something good. Help others with
survivor’s guilt understand they are employed because
their work is highly valued, the firm’s productivity
would suffer without them, they have developed important and
positive business relationships, and their skill set or job
knowledge is unique to the organization. In other words, and
maybe for the first time in their careers, they have received
the ultimate in positive feedback from their employer—at
the highest levels. Help them recognize and enjoy the vote of
New tasks equal professional
development. Typically, when an organization downsizes,
employees take on new tasks. These may consist of lower-, same-
or higher-level tasks. All provide opportunities to enhance an
existing skill set. If you find yourself or your staff
grumbling about the new tasks on your list, then you’re
missing the point.
Embrace lower-level tasks. Show your manager and colleagues
that you can do them quickly and at very high levels of
quality. Make suggestions for process and procedure changes to
increase departmental or organizational efficiency and
effectiveness. You’ll create a legacy that will outlive
your stint performing the tasks.
Jump on new same-level tasks. Sure, they may stretch your
existing capabilities. You’ll probably find that
you’ll need to augment current or learn new skills or
find answers to new questions. Taking on same-level skills of a
different position is called cross-training and is one of the
most powerful career-enhancers in the workplace because, in a
pinch, even after staffing levels are increased, you are not
limited by your position or boxed in by a defined skill set.
You’ll be a go-to person, and your chances for promotion
will be multiplied.
Take a stab at higher-level responsibilities. If your
manager was let go, not only do you have a great opportunity to
rise to the occasion, you’ll do it with minimal risk.
Most organizations that have had to eliminate management
positions don’t necessarily expect the next tier down to
“work up,” so a non-management employee who
volunteers for or readily accepts higher-level tasks, and who
is able to achieve positive results, is looked upon as a hero.
Worst case, you step up to the plate and strike out. If so,
rest assured it’s the stepping up that will be remembered
Less staff creates strong
teams. Nothing creates a stronger team than a common
enemy. In the case of a RIF, the new team’s common enemy
is another downsizing. The threat of a repeat RIF is greatly
minimized by working at full speed to achieve goals and meet
deadlines, providing great customer service and account
management, getting the job done, which may mean helping
someone else get their work done, and keeping the workforce
from deteriorating by supporting each other. Also gone post-RIF
is the “I do more work than anyone” mentality as
everyone shares in the increased workload and new challenges.
Teams that come together during stressful times are teams that
will hum like a well oiled machine during times of growth and
Post-RIF resilience is as critical to success as were
pre-RIF results. The old work environment is gone, but in its
place is a new career landscape seeded with rare and abundant
opportunity. Opportunity is available to everyone, but only
those who move confidently forward, develop new skills as
needed, and learn to work together to achieve common goals will
reap the rewards.
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.