Morale support: How to lead your IT team through layoffs

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For leaders tasked with conducting layoffs, carrying on requires improving morale for those who remain — a tall order in turbulent times. 

More than 200 tech employers have laid off nearly 60,000 people this year, according to layoff tracking site A tally by Crunchbase puts that number at 46,000

Even at businesses that have not conducted layoffs, the jolt running through the technology field can impact workers as they witness neighboring businesses cut staff or pause hiring.

Leaders steering their businesses through internal layoffs should assess the process, to determine whether or not remaining workers have adequate support and the resources to carry out their functions once staff cuts have concluded. 

Workers worry that, if another round of job cuts is carried out, they’ll be next and receive the same treatment, said Julia Lamm, partner, Workforce Transformation at PwC.

“You’ll see those employees start to look for jobs pretty quickly,” said Lamm.

The true impact of layoffs

It’s still early to determine how ongoing layoffs will impact the tech talent market for the rest of the year. The most recent technology workforce outlooks suggest unemployment in tech professions is still low compared to national trends, a sign that opportunities are available despite high-profile staff cuts.

For workers who remain at a company after job cuts, the pressure mounts. 

More than 7 in 10 workers spared by job cuts say they became less motivated in the aftermath, according to data from e-commerce news site BizReport. The site surveyed 2,162 U.S. workers in November. 

Layoff survivors typically see increased workloads in the aftermath. Nearly two-thirds of survivors report feeling overworked.

Burnout was already playing out prior to the recent job cut cycle. Now, workers are feeling like they’re getting more work piled on as others depart.

Leaders need to evaluate workloads, actively deprioritizing projects by removing them entirely or pushing start dates back, Lamm said.

To improve worker morale, the way layoffs are conducted is critical — from decision-making to severance packages.

“Managers should walk employees through the rationale behind the company’s downsizing decisions,” BizReport said in a blog post. Leaders should explain how different decisions were made, as well as what strategies were put in place to support laid off workers through severance or career transition services.

Tracking team morale

Workers will respond differently to a cycle of layoffs, said Lamm. Job cuts can be especially challenging to workers who haven’t previously experienced an economic downturn in their career.

“That’s where you can have your mid-level managers who’ve been through this talk to them about how to prepare, how to navigate through this time, how to focus on what they can control,” she said.

No matter what trends are playing out in the broader economic landscape, there are ways for leaders to track company morale. For some, it comes back to culture.

Rom Kosla, CIO, retail business services at Ahold Delhaize USA, said staff across the company has a sense of business strategy. Senior leaders at Ahold Delhaize follow monthly review cycles, conduct quarterly town halls and hold team roundtables to get a pulse of the organization.

“Our teams have a high touch with our associates and that’s a very important part of how I think of our organization, what we need to be doing as a high-performing function,” Kosla told CIO Dive. 

In a downturn, leaders need to rely on company culture to support morale. 

“This is tough if you haven’t built a great culture of collaboration, but if you have, you can enlist people’s better instincts to help each other through the workaround any shifts in the strategy you need to make,” said Yuchun Lee, CEO and cofounder at software company Allego, in an email.

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