Five tips for keeping your team focused following layoffs

In tough times, your staff may become demoralized and ineffective, especially if jobs have been cut. Here are a few suggestions for helping your team stay engaged and productive.

Budget cuts and workforce reductions are often unavoidable in the lifecycle of a business. But IT managers have to find ways to motivate their remaining staff members during the fallout, no matter how awful they may feel about the tough choices they've had to make. Here are a few pointers that will help your team stay on track during the uncertainty that naturally follows a workforce reduction or other dramatic budget cut.

Note: These tips are based on the article Clear goals and candid communication keep teams focused in wake of layoffs.

1: Make sure everybody is working on something meaningful

I can't stress this one enough. On the day that layoffs are announced, hold a staff meeting to outline general responsibilities in the wake of personnel changes. Be understanding if your team is not at the top of its game for a couple of days following the layoffs. But by day three, it's time to begin checking up on project punch-lists again. The greatest risk you face following a staffing change is that your team will begin to believe the company is destined for failure. Give your remaining team members clearly attainable goals and then prove that you're serious about meeting them.

2: Stress the business-case benefits of your team's contributions

At some companies, meetings about staff reductions are the only times IT pros hear their efforts discussed in terms of profit and loss. If you haven't already done so, develop a brief presentation on the ROI of your team's current projects. Understanding how their work provides immediate financial upside to the company will help your team members get over the "I'm next" syndrome.

3: Recruit veteran team members to help keep things on track

No matter how much your team members may like you personally, employees who have just been through a layoff adopt an us-versus-them attitude about management -- and you will definitely fall in the "them" category. Pinpoint one or two veteran team members with whom you can have candid conversations about morale issues that other employees may be reluctant to share with you. And whatever you do, don't keep this practice confidential. That strategy just makes it seem as if you're sending in a management mole. Be sure your staff advisors know they can openly share information they get from you with their teammates.

4: Remind employees that they get a paycheck

This one may not win you any popularity contests right off the bat. But when long-range commitments are being questioned, it's a legitimate wake-up call to remind employees that they and the company have immediate commitments to each other -- an honest day's work in exchange for a fair compensation package. This tip works best in one-on-one conversations, of course. I've used it myself at least 10 times, and only once have I received a highly negative reaction. I think it's because amidst the carefully crafted messaging that accompanies a staff reduction, a little jolt of candor is refreshing.

5: Make sure your next project is a success and that everyone in the company knows it

After seeing staff positions eliminated because they did not make business sense for the company, your remaining team members will be apprehensive that the same conclusion may soon be drawn about their own jobs. Be sure that your team's next big project is a real winner for the company. Shuffle resources, if need be, to ensure a timely launch, and when the project is complete, be sure to publicize the return the company can expect on its investment.

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Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRe...


Having just gone through this exercise I'd like to thank the contributor for the contribution, and then ask for his resignation if he worked for me. None of the points above will make a team focussed and productive. In this situation people involved will be waiting for the next round of bad news, and it will hang on for months in this way. Be positive about the future by all means, but those remaining will look upon their management with fear, disgust and loathing for a long time to come. after all the management made all the decisions and are therefore to blame for everything that has been and will be.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

have no contact with reality. 1) Define meaningful, to whom ? Did you keep the wrong people? Just mentioning this point means you were, are and will continue to fail at management. 2) See point one. Business case, is either incredibly obvious, or specious drivel invented as a career saver for the authors of the current tragedy. 3) You kept the veterans then? Hmmm given these are the least likely people to give any credence to the fatuous response to points 1 and 2. How are you going to recruit them. Money, power, fear... 4) I love being reminded that I'm working for a paycheck, I thought it was for the glory of the company and rescuing management. Fear factor may work in the short term, but every employee you threaten in this fashion is one who's going to leave at their first opportunity, or you kept the wrong people. 5) Define success. Why is this project different to the preceding ones. How is this success better than others that have been defined as failures after hindsight. This is all about managing expectation. I'll give you a tip. Remember, meaningless projects with no business case were created by management and paid for by employees. You want to keep your teams focused, sack yourself... Huge assumption that somehow the employees put the company in the position where it had to lay people off. Got to say that's unlikely in my experience, check out the mirror, that's if you can look yourelf in the eye after this self serving drivel.


1. This is hardly a problem. After layoffs, there is always overabundance of meaningful things to work on. Meaningful things of one's own plus meaningful things the former colleagues left behind. 2. Better not. Your employees might start to think about their IT careers in the terms of ROI as well. That would eliminate any residues of morale left after layoffs. 3. Us-versus-them attitude about management is not a mentality. It's a fact of life. The idea about veteran members sharing informations with their temmates is stupid. There is no such thing as teammate after layoffs. There is only labour market competition, competition for the remaining jobs. 4. That's the only thing that works.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The only thing that might work. Honestly putting yourself in the other poor buggers shoes...

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