Worried About Layoffs? Here Are 3 Ways to Ease Fear in the Workplace

In a not-so-shocking headline, Forbes recently proclaimed Job Ax Fears Can Mess with Employee Engagement & Morale.

While I know no one reading this post is surprised by this in the least, the article does go on to make several good points, including the paranoia caused by constant fear of layoffs leading to a destruction of trust and teamwork.

And this stress is happening at all levels of the organization, not just the leadership tier. I wrote about research showing middle managers are far more stressed than senior leaders. Now additional research out of the UK shows the same results.

When people are working in this constant state of fear, they respond in several common ways.

They hoard information, thinking they will have too much “institutional knowledge” to be in the next round of layoffs. This leads to aggravation among teammates who find it harder to get the work done, perhaps because they’re doing double work or failing to deliver because of missing information. Very quickly, the result is a breakdown in relationships and the way people work together to get the job done quickly, efficiently and effectively.

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3 ways to counteract behaviors caused by fear

  1. Constantly communicate – A fear environment develops in an information vacuum. People will create their own story (often, a far more negative version) in the absence of the truth. Honestly, clearly and regularly communicate with employees on the state of the company, future direction, and potential impacts.
  2. Encourage recognition between peers – Specifically design a strategic, social recognition program to acknowledge and reward the behaviors you need (and consequently discourage those you don’t.) Encourage employees to recognize each other for sharing information, for speeding projects along, for teamwork, etc.
  3. Set an example – Always remember, employees (indeed, no one) responds well to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Set the example by frequently, specifically and in a timely way recognizing your team members and others in the organization for demonstrating the values and behaviors you need and want to see again and again.

Is fear a common emotion in your workplace? What other ways can you or your leadership work to counteract fear?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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