By Janice Litvin
Those of us in tech and IT know that change is the norm. We are geared for it, and in general it does not surprise us when something in our environment changes. What we are not necessarily prepared for is sudden layoffs. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is to do a better job of preparing for a crisis.
One key issue that repeatedly reared its ugly head throughout the last year is fear of job loss. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment numbers jumped from below 4% in February, 2020 to almost 15% by April. While the numbers have been slowly coming back down rates are still a bit high at 6%.
When you take those numbers into consideration, of course people were fearful. When workers fear a layoff is coming, they pace around wringing their hands and looking for new jobs on company time. Productivity begins to decline.
What can employers do to assuage fears and support their teams? Here are three tips to help you lead and guide.
#1 Help employees manage stress
All the lack of control and knowledge about the future cause stress, and different people experience stress differently. So it is important to be empathetic to the various reactions your teams will exhibit.
The stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, when continuously activated wreak havoc on various physiological as well as emotional processes, leading to burnout. Once someone is burned out, they don’t just snap back so preventing burnout in the first place is critical. One way to prevent burnout is to watch for aberrant behavior. If you see something, say something. Don’t sweep problems under the carpet. Instead address them head-on. Meet one-on-one to give a listening ear and offer resources.
Here is one possible script for handling this difficult conversation. Take your team member aside privately and begin by saying, “Hey Bob, you don’t seem yourself lately. Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want to talk? Are you aware that our employee benefits offer private counseling under the strictest confidence?” EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) are not allowed to reveal the identify of any employee they are counseling, under HIPAA (privacy) laws.
Another resource is my new book, Banish Burnout Toolkit, in which I provide an avenue to awareness, another burnout prevention tactic. In my toolkit I break down the two most common forms of stress-induced behavior: over-reaction and over-generalization. The best way to combat those two reactions is to reality spin them. And the best way to help your employees stay grounded in reality is to teach them how connect to their feelings and modulate them.
To help employees connect to their emotions I advise working the Stress Audit, from Tool #1 of the Banish Burnout Toolkit. In essence, people write down their stressor, in this case, fear of job loss. Then have them write down how they feel, how their body is reacting, what they are saying, the degree of stress they are feeling and then what if any addictive behavior they are experiencing. When they write with a pen and paper they allow all their feelings to have a dumping ground, allowing the Amygdala, the fear center, to get it all out. When they go back and re-read their Stress Audit, they are engaging the Pre-frontal cortex, the executive functioning part of the brain, and they can begin to develop and maintain perspective.
One of the most important outcomes from this process is the knowledge that fear does not have to control thoughts. In this way, employees can take control over their thoughts which impact feelings and behavior.
#2 Engage employees with integrity
Employees want reassurance that their job will be there and that you, the leadership, will do your best to keep their jobs intact. They want a promise that you will keep in touch with them often as the situation unfolds. They want to know that if you have to deliver the worst-case scenario, you do it transparently while providing helpful support, offering as many services as possible, both financial and outplacement.
#3 Be present
Jim Purcell, Former CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Founder, Returns on Wellbeing Institute recommends not hiding behind your desk, even your virtual desk. Ask questions and then listen carefully. Be approachable. Set up a psychologically safe virtual suggestion box. Employees want to be heard, especially during troubling times.
Be transparent about the company’s situation, both the short- and long-term future prospects. Clarify for employees honestly what it will take to stay employed and then stick with your commitments.
Have managers meeting with employees one-on-one to reassure them that their job is intact, unless a layoff is actually coming. In that case, be honest and if possible, provide assistance.
During difficult times of company uncertainty keeping the employees mentally “safe and sound” comes from open, honest communication. Stay connected. Treat your employees with respect and when they come to you with a concern, take care to be empathetic and caring. That is how to help employees overcome their fears of job loss.
JANICE LITVIN is on a mission to help leaders and teams banish burnout in their organizations so their employees can come to work healthy, happy and ready to work. She is a certified virtual presenter and SHRM recertification provider who teaches that replacing your employees is much more expensive and time-consuming than helping them be well.
She draws on over 20 years in the human resources field, 10 years in the IT industry, studies in psychology, and experience changing her own behavior in response to stress using cognitive behavior therapy.
Litvin coaches leaders on keeping teams happy and productive through her unique wellness strategies. Through keynotes, workshops, and accountability groups, she provides simple, easy-to-implement techniques to manage stress to prevent burnout, engage in wellness, and fall in love with fitness. The result: lasting behavior change.
Banish Burnout Toolkit™ is available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.