Don’t forget retained workers after layoffs, consulting firm advises

Dive Brief:

  • Following layoffs, HR and managers should work together to ensure retained employees receive accurate information, emotional support and a clear understanding of what comes next, a Sept. 27 report from McLean & Co. advised.
  • Key HR responsibilities in a post-layoff environment include: Training and supporting managers to care for retained employees; keeping retained employees well-informed with open and honest communications; and providing them with opportunities for professional development to close skills gaps, the report said.
  • Just as important, HR staff and managers should remember that they are retained employees as well and are navigating their own emotions and at risk for burnout and increased stress, McLean pointed out. This means HR and managers “must prioritize taking care of their own needs in order to provide meaningful support to other retained employees,” the global HR and leadership consulting firm urged.

Dive Insight:

HR pros are familiar with critical components of retaining and engaging employees, like manager training, clear and personalized communication, and upskilling. After a layoff, these tools become particularly important for supporting retained employees, the McLean report said.

Coaching managers on how to actively listen to their direct reports — a key responsibility of managers following a layoff, according to McLean — should be a training priority, the firm said.

“Managers often have the inaccurate perception that relief or gratitude is the primary emotion experienced by retained employees,” Kelly Berte, McLean’s director of HR Research & Advisory Services, said in a statement. “In reality, all employees experience a unique set of emotions during this transitional time, requiring acknowledgment and support from both HR and managers,” Berte said.

Training can also help with a manager’s other key responsibilities as identified by McLean, including: Redistributing workloads to mitigate the risk direct reports will suffer burnout; developing employees to close skills gaps; connecting their work to organizational purpose; and answering questions where possible.

In addition, training sessions may need to address new managers who were promoted based on technical skills but are unprepared to lead, according to a May report from Info-Tech Research. The training should help new managers focus on essential skills, enable them to apply these skills within 48 hours of learning, foster accountability and allow for continuous learning, the report recommended.

As for communication, during the aftermath of a layoff, clarity is critical, McLean indicated. Yet, many employees have only a murky understanding of their organization’s strategy, vision and purpose, according to a February report from Gallagher.

Keeping team members engaged around purpose, an important priority for HR leaders, also depends on clear communication, the report noted.

Personalized communication additionally helps employees feel genuinely connected with peers and the company they work for, especially in today’s hybrid era, an expert previously told HR Dive.

Companies have found that asynchronous communication, such as through emails and messaging platforms, can bridge time gaps when team members work remotely or hybrid at different hours or in different time zones. But it can also create friction and frustration when employees feel they have to be checking communication platforms all the time.

To help reduce the friction, employers have to set guidelines; to keep someone from being left out of a vital conversation, employers and employees have to be intentional about communication, experts have said.

And with nearly a quarter of U.S. employers facing a major skills gap, according to a July report from, upskilling represents a critical path forward, a executive said. Organizations should first conduct a skills inventory; HR teams may learn they have needed skills in house, the exec noted.