How to repair your corporate culture after letting employees go

Was your business forced to implement a redundancy programme, as the COVID-19 downturn began to impact turnover and profits?  If so, you’re far from alone.

ABS data suggested a million Australians lost their jobs soon after social distancing measures came into effect. As business activity ground to a halt around the country, enterprises of all stripes and sizes had to make the difficult decision to let good people go. They included Virgin Airlines, which slashed its workforce by a third, and Big Four consultancies PwC, Deloitte and KPMG, all of which dispensed with hundreds of professional employees.

Many SMEs were also forced to reduce their workforce in order to  survive.  However necessary the action may be, laying workers off en masse doesn’t only cause anxiety and distress for those who are directly affected by the cuts.

It also has a negative impact on employees who retain their positions. Even if a redundancy program has been well planned and sensitively executed, uncertainty and anxiety are generally rife. Individuals who’ve been kept on feel bad for their former colleagues, and worry they’ll be next in the firing line, should the company’s fortunes fall further.

Motivation and morale inevitably take a hit – bad news for enterprises striving to stabilise their situations and begin the journey back to profitability and growth. Feeling undervalued can also spur people to look for other opportunities; not an ideal outlook at a time when you most need your remaining employees to bring their A-game.

That’s why taking steps to repair and strengthen your workplace culture can be good for your team – and good for business. As we enter a new and hopefully less turbulent year, here are some ways to do so.

Be open and transparent

It’s not practicable or desirable for employees to be privy to all the deliberations in the boardroom and at the decision-maker level. But giving them as much information about how the company is faring and the strategies you’re employing to get things back on track as you’re able, in a timely and transparent way, is reassuring during uncertain times.

Engage, engage, engage

It’s difficult to over-engage with employees after a major upheaval like mass redundancy. Townhall meetings, held online or in real life, are an excellent way to connect and keep them in the loop. Meanwhile, one-on-one meetings with managers can provide a safe space for them to provide feedback, ask questions and raise concerns.

Acknowledge the new norm

At the same time as it’s thinned the headcount, COVID-19 has forced employees to learn new ways of doing things, among them working remotely. In many organisations, they’re toiling harder than ever, helping their employers stay afloat through the crisis. Acknowledging that change has occurred and accommodating some of the challenges, it throws up – think children and pets making unplanned appearances on Zoom calls, for example – will do much to foster the esprit de corps that disappears after lay-offs occur.

Recognise and reward regularly

Recognition and reward are integral to employee satisfaction and never more so than when a team and organisation have endured challenging and uncertain times. Following the RISE rule – offering feedback that’s Regular, Immediate, Specific and Encouraging – will help you boost engagement with your team after redundancies have occurred.

Working towards a more positive future

In tough economic times, few organisations can expect to survive and thrive in the absence of a genuinely motivated and engaged workforce. If yours is still struggling in the wake of mass lay-offs, investing time and resources into helping employees regain their mojo is likely to prove a very smart move.

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By Matt Seadon

Matt is General Manager of Asia Pacific at Achievers, an industry-leading provider of employee recognition and engagement solutions. He is responsible for the organisation’s Asia Pacific business, including sales and client service teams in Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. With nearly two decades of industry experience, Matt was previously General Manager of Recognition at Blackhawk Network, Asia Pacific and General Manager and Director at Grass Roots Group.