Managing Workplace Reactions to Budget Cuts
Following are some proven ways for management to reduce the negative effects on staff of cutbacks, reorganizations and layoffs:
Calm, realistic and positive attitude from management. Directors, managers and supervisors set the tone as to how the work unit will react to the stress and challenge of unwelcome change. Consider how when you are on an airplane flight and there is significant air turbulence, one looks to the pilot and the flight attendants for guidance and reassurance. For your staff, you are the pilot and flight attendant. Your behavior and attitude are critical elements in steering the group successfully through the transition. A positive attitude does not imply that you should deny the difficult and unfortunate aspects of what might be happening. Rather it involves reassuring your staff that you are all up to the challenge.
Communication, communication, communication. When staff are in a state of anxiety, especially about something as basic as layoffs and job security, it is normal for them not to hear and take in everything you are telling them about what is going on. You cannot communicate enough and in too many ways about what is happening during times of difficult change. When you are sick and tired of hearing yourself say the same thing time and time again, you may have finally gotten the information across to your staff.
Communication by management that is clear and comprehensive about the source and reason for changes, the process to be used for making decisions about staffing, reorganizations and layoffs, facts about the schedule and dates for implementation and how it will be done, etc. is the best antidote possible against generalized employee anxiety and the destructive “ rumor mill”. Employees who have useful information will feel less out of control and more empowered. They will also be more able to attend to their daily job duties instead of worrying unnecessarily.
Visibility and support from management on a regular basis. Taking the time to show your presence among your staff and provide words of encouragement will do a lot to reassure your workers. During times of change, employees can get anxious if they do not see their management. They may start to imagine that things are going even worse than expected, and that is why management has been absent. Using the airplane analogy again, what would you start to think if the flight attendant disappeared into the pilot’s cabin for a long period of time.
Acknowledgement to staff of difficult times and normal reactions. There is a common misconception that if you acknowledge that times are difficult or stressful that it will make things worse. The opposite is true. The more we “normalize” employee reactions, and let employees know that we understand they are affected by budget cuts and uncertainty – the more they will feel understood and cared for – and be able to function well. It is also a good idea to talk about how emotions can be more intense at times like this, and that we all need to be especially kind and patient with each other.
Understanding the change process and common reactions to change. As a manager who is responsible for guiding your staff, it is very helpful for you to understand some of the common stages and reactions experienced by employees as they are going through the change process. The typical stages include: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment.
- Denial – common reaction would be, “This will never really happen – if I just don’t think about it, it will go away”.
- Resistance – a typical response would be – “I will find a way to reverse this layoff decision.” or for survivors, “There is no way that I am going to consider taking on any more responsibility or work.”
- Exploration – might sound like, “I think I will go to that meeting to find out about the layoff process, benefits and support services.”
- Commitment – one is accepting reality and moving on – “I am working on a good plan with my outplacement counselor for finding a new job."
Each person will go through the stages at their own pace. Some may get stuck in the stages of denial or resistance, and will need extra help in moving forward. Some employees may be especially vulnerable to experiencing anxiety or depression as a result of what is happening at work. ASAP Services can provide free and confidential help for those who need it.
Appropriate staff inclusion in decision making and planning. Periods of negative change caused by external forces make employees feel especially out of control of their work circumstances. Allowing staff to add their input before, during and after cutbacks will increase their sense of control and add to their ability to trust management, contribute creative ideas, and commit to new ways of doing things.
Information on helpful ASAP resources. This is the time to learn about and call on all of the resources the University provides to support management and employees while they navigate turbulent changes. Key resources will be within the Human Resources Department and ASAP Services, the employee assistance program for
UC Davis, Medical Center.
Respectful and helpful behavior toward departing staff. Treating employees who are losing their jobs with care and support will help them greatly to deal with the challenges they have in finding new work and surviving the layoff experience. It will also send a positive and reassuring message to remaining staff and others at the University.
Support for remaining staff: Remaining staff will be dealing with the loss of former coworkers, ongoing job insecurity and often increased workloads. Some proven ways to deal with this include the following:
- clarify roles, responsibilities and work priorities
- set realistic performance expectations
- show appreciation for work effort
- continue and/or initiate workplace celebrations, rituals, etc
- support staff training and career development
- streamline work and increase efficiency with staff input
- acknowledge trust concerns and continued job anxiety
- acknowledge emotional issues for survivors – guilt, loss
- provide feasible flexible work arrangements
- support needed breaks and vacations
- remind staff of the confidential help available at ASAP Services
Continued strategic planning in line with mission, values, and goals. An effective way to help ground the organization and staff following a major layoff is to review the mission, values and goals of the organization, as well as any existing strategic plan, in light of the reduction in force. This will serve to remind everyone of what has not changed and help to clarify organizational priorities and new realities given the reduction in force.
Academic and Staff Assistance Program (ASAP) can be reached at (916) 734-2727 for free and confidential problem assessment, referral and consultation services for all UC Davis employees and managers. ASAP is located at Ticon III, 3rd floor.