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The stayers’ disease

In spite of the crisis, continuously rightsizing the organization has become routine for many companies nowadays. However, the question in this context is: do we, as managers, focus on the right people?

You decide to reorganize your organization. The number of employees and the costs are too high. The decision has been well considered: a certain percentage of the staff must be made redundant. You are in charge of the preparation. You are going to treat this group of people respectfully and approach it in an open as well as honest way.

Subsequently, the decision will be communicated to the staff: the storyline has been prepared: the status of the company... the market... the competitors... the measures... We regret it, but we are forced to... The employees are listening and taking a look around. Who will be dismissed; who won’t? Suddenly, there are victims and lucky bastards. The responsible managers start discussing with and guiding the leavers. We advise you to opt for a quick execution. It is essential to stick to the carefully taken and well-considered decisions.

And what happens next? Back to business? Yes and no. Yes, of course, since the objectives were to make the company competitive again and to improve the results. So, “Yes”: back to business. But also “No”; the aim is not to return to the former situation with less people.

The other step
A process focused on the stayers goes hand in hand with the other action: the employees who are lucky that they can stay within the company. But for them also, a lot has happened and will happen. Some of their colleagues had to leave against their will, which was an emotional moment. This can vary from glad that I can stay to sincere compassion for colleagues having heard the bad news. This group of survivors really needs your attention! As a member of the management board, you shouldn’t expect hugs. The workload of the remaining employees hasn’t been reduced; on the contrary, it has been increased! Moreover, everyone is hoping and expecting that the results will be improved from now on. How do the stayers deal with it? And how does the management deal with those feelings?

The American author David Noer wrote a book - that has become famous - about the stayers’ disease. In this book, he elaborates a four-step model about how organizations can effectively better steer the revitalization of the stayers after a rightsizing.
  1. Communication. How the management should manage the farewell process. The remaining employees have shown empathy for the others during the process. Probably, they were themselves afraid of being made redundant. At this stage, it is crucial that the management communicates openly and frequently; it should not just communicate the rational reasons, but it should do this with respect and empathy towards the stayers as well as the leavers. Show understanding and be there for your employees!

  2. Mourning. It might sound a little heavy, but it is what it is: mourning. People who have been collaborating, are being separated from each other. Many personal ties, often deeply rooted in private life, are being cut off. Losing a job is one of the five major traumas people can have. The grieving must be facilitated by the stayers. If no attention is paid to that, the group won’t re-identify itself with the new objectives of the company. Fear will arise and lead to absenteeism, productivity loss as well as undesired resignations.

  3. Empowering. Make your employees stronger! In his book, Noer talks about Empowering People. Stronger and more autonomous. This gives your employees a break, after which they will behave more effectively. It will have a direct impact on their productivity, their creativity and the continuation of their good performances.

  4. New relationship. The fact that their colleagues had to leave as a consequence of the reorganization process, made the employees understand that lifetime employment doesn’t exist. Building another employment relationship is the next step that needs to be taken. Short-running, situational arrangements. Don’t create an atmosphere of a career on the assembly line. Make clear arrangements for the projects to be carried out and grant rewards accordingly, again by means of clear and open communication. Professional, clear and consistent.
Briefly: the difficult process of shrinking an organization implies much more than merely deciding who will have to leave and doing this with respect. No, the other group needs at least as much attention, perhaps more, because the company’s future depends upon those employees. If you don’t deal with it appropriately, your reorganization will fail.

The new standard should be: continuously adapting your organization to the circumstances. Ensuring in an effective way that the stayers achieve the objectives, deserves structured attention. We can’t wait to read your experiences. Join the conversation hereunder or let me know if you want to continue the discussion with me or one of my colleagues.

Have a nice weekend!

Jan Timmer
Associate Partner tèn company

You can read our book review of Healing the wounds by David Noer on the literature page you will find here.

As the Chief Human Rousources Manager of Getronics and Managing Director of one of the major Dutch outplacement firms, Jan has for many years been directly implied into many downsizings. Nationally and internationally. Please find his biography here.
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