14 Tips on Communicating with Employees During Layoffs, Mergers, or Other Times of Change

Are you in the midst of layoffs? Budget-cuts? A merger or acquisition?

If you are downsizing, then you know the anxiety it produces among employees and the way it impacts morale, productivity, and customers. Communication during these times is a powerful tool that can help keep your employees engaged during difficult times. Here are 14 internal communication tips we’ve seen work during difficult times:

  1. Start inside. Cascade the message from your inner circle out—making sure employees get the news before the public does. Although social media makes this challenge, it helps to create an hour-by-hour schedule that outlines who gets what messages when—and how. 
  2. Explain the why. Employees are more likely to accept difficult decisions if they understand the why behind them. Work with your legal teams to determine the guardrails on what can be shared—and what can't. 
  3. Speak the truth. Truth appears to be a diminishing commodity in a world of spin-doctors, but truth-telling ultimately is essential to building trust. Give as much detail as you can, but never promise things you can't deliver. People will accept difficult news more easily than they will forgive untruths.
  4. Start with the vision. People endure hard times when they know it's worth it. Maybe the layoffs will allow the company to remain competitive. The more detailed and inspiring your vision is, the more it will fuel employee support through hard times. If you can provide a timeline, even better.
  5. Recognize the symbolism of actions. Cutting budgets while redecorating an executive’s office? Building a new corporate headquarters during layoffs? Timing could be entirely coincidental, but the actions of leaders are always symbolic and send messages whether intentional or not. Communicators need to be at the table during these decisions to manage the optics of the situation.
  6. Be consistent. Make sure there's parity between what you're doing and saying. If your company values have always been about respect, then respect must be a guiding principle in how people are treated during times of change. Actions always are the most powerful form of communication.
  7. Be present. Round with your team each week, even if you don't have good news. There is consolation in knowing that a leader is listening.
  8. Don't go dark. We recommend regular updates even if you don't have any big news to communicate. There's always something to say—even if it's that you're still waiting on the outcome of a report or working on meeting your targets. 
  9. Recognize the employees' struggle. Showing that you understand the impact on your team builds camaraderie.
  10. Speak personally about the situation. Corporate-speak can feel cold and uncaring. Balance expressions of empathy with reasons for hope, and be willing to talk about what is difficult for you about this situation. 
  11. Recognize that communication is ongoing. Remind your leaders that they will have to repeat messages over and over before they gain traction in your organization. 
  12. Use video as part of your communication mix. Why? Communication that is passed on verbally migrates messages. But video preserves the message exactly as you want it—no matter how many times it is shared. And it engages more of the senses by adding sound and motion—so is more likely to be watched and remembered.
  13. Ensure a balanced diet. Look at the communication employees are receiving and ask what percentage is business/operational information, and what percent is inspiration. Although you need both, it’s often the latter that is too sparse.
  14. Explain limits. If you are in the midst of negotiations or can't provide more information, tell them why. This helps them realize that you're not withholding information purposely.

During difficult times in a company, it’s easy to want to take a low profile as a leader. But these are exactly the times when presence and communication is most important.

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