Tech & Work

How to keep your team together when layoffs hit

What does an IT manager do when dealing with a staff already touched by layoffs? An HR specialist offers these suggestions on how to keep your team engaged and on task.


Let human resources manager and technical recruiter Tim Heard find the answers to your HR questions. Tim shares hints and tips on a host of HR issues in this Q&A format.

Q. How do IT managers deal with a situation where senior management has conducted a series of layoffs and the remaining staffers live in fear that they will be affected by the next rounds of staff cuts, either by losing their jobs or by having to pick up the slack for departed colleagues? What possible hope or worthwhile compensation can you offer them?

Also, how do you explain and equate paying IT staff on a 40-hour basis when they’re required to be available 24/7? When non-IT managers and other non-IT staffers have to work only 40 hours and aren't required to be available 24/7, how do you equate parity in wage or other compensation? Don't you reward commensurate with the the criticality of need?

A manager’s role
A. The hope is that the last round of layoffs was the final round and that by cutting costs, the company has saved the remaining jobs for everyone else. By pulling together, the remaining employees can help salvage a struggling company and help it rise from the ashes.

This type of recovery is possible. A prominent company in Louisville, KY, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection several years ago, emerged from bankruptcy last year, and is now a solid company again. Prior to filing Chapter 11, though, there were layoffs, and many employees left by choice, not wanting to go down with a sinking ship.

As a manager, it is your job to avoid giving in to the pessimism that I hear in your letter. Your job is to help create a vision that better times are a possibility. I’ll grant that it’s not easy, and may not always be realistic, but that’s what you’re getting paid to do. So suck it up or go elsewhere. If you’re going to join everyone else in their despair, then you won’t be doing anyone any good.

With regard to rewarding your employees, I would suggest doing as much as you can to foster the feeling of teamwork. Often, when people join together to face difficult circumstances, the experience can forge a bond between them. If you can find any budget money for celebrating small victories, use it. Get someone to cover the phones for an hour or so, and take everyone out for pizza. If possible, offer comp time to employees who have really been putting in a lot of hours. Perhaps some projects won’t meet their deadlines, but you need to make taking care of your staff as much of a priority as hitting the deadlines, which were probably set when you had a full staff anyway.

Sorry, wage parity is a myth
Now, regarding the second question: I hate to burst your bubble, but there never has been such a thing as wage parity. Wages are a product of supply and demand. That means that people with rare skills who are in great demand get paid more than people with common skills in low demand. It has nothing to do with what’s right or fair. (Lemons vs. City and County of Denver is a famous case in which a bunch of nurses sued the city of Denver about pay-equity issues, comparing themselves to more highly paid tree trimmers, sign painters, and real estate appraisers. They lost.)

Now, you may have some recourse if the IT people in question are sufficiently low enough in skill and discretion that they actually should be treated as hourly employees. However, I suspect this is not the case. But remember, the grass is always much greener on the other side of the fence. I strongly suspect that those people working 40 hours a week are actually working 55 to 70 hours a week, especially following a round of staff cuts. If they are not, I’ll bet I can guess who will be on the list in the next round of cuts.

Ultimately, you and the others in the IT department have the choice of sticking it out or braving the job market to find something else. If you opt for the latter, I know of a long list of people who will be standing in line to take your jobs, regardless of how bad things may seem to be right now.

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