Usually in the case of layoffs, the people who survive it are expected to take up the jobs left by their terminated colleagues. Meanwhile, these layoff survivors often struggle with guilt, anxiety, and low morale. In short, after the layoff, people are demanding more and giving less. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to burnout and retaining key talent. In this piece, the authors outline four strategies for properly sizing your workload team.
Faced with economic uncertainty and slowing revenue growth, companies continue to announce layoffs affecting thousands of workers. These declines, which have moved beyond the tech industry to many other sectors, is undeniably tragic for the victims of the layoff. But they are also terrible for the workers left behind. Survivors of layoffs often struggle with psychological effects from layoffs, including guilt, anxiety, and depression. In a state of decline confidence and morale, they also remain on edge as they fearfully await another round of cuts. And often, layoff survivors are expected to pick up the jobs their co-workers left behind.
In short, companies often demand more from their people at a time when they have less to give. This dynamic is a recipe for disaster when it comes to burnout, retaining key talent, and the long-term success of your team. For your team’s health and performance, it’s important to evaluate your team’s capacity after a layoff and take significant steps to right-size your team’s workload. Here’s how:
Identify projects and initiatives to postpone
In a situation of overload, it is a natural stress response to put your nose to the grindstone to reduce the amount of work. However, it’s important to step back and identify where your team should invest its valuable time and energy.
- Start by making a comprehensive list with your team of all ongoing initiatives and projects and discuss what each one is solving, creating, or improving.
- Next, rank these initiatives based on their expected impact and the potential benefit of each project to the organization.
- Finally, identify which initiatives can be postponed but are easy to resume later versus those where a temporary stop would be consequential and difficult to reverse.
Because of fall in sunk costs, we are reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action that we have already invested in. However, many projects can be stopped and resumed easily at once. Recognizing this difference will allow you and your team to override this error and make decisions faster so you can focus on the most critical work.
As you choose projects to postpone, however, make sure you keep one or more projects focused on the future. These projects always serve as a source of inspiration and motivation for the team, giving energy to their work.
Align with your boss to manage your “shelf space”
Supermarkets and retail stores are naturally constrained by their shelf space, unable to add a new product unless they remove an existing one. Leaders should use similar principles to manage their team’s workload, but rarely do.
The next time your boss asks for something from your team, ask if the new request needs immediate attention. If so, ask your manager to help you prioritize the request among your team’s other tasks. For example, you could say, “The team is also working on these three other initiatives. Is there anything that can be dropped or postponed to make room for this?” Giving your boss a choice gives them a sense of control and more effective than a flat push back.
Also, practice proactively sharing estimated resource requirements for any requests. Most leaders are unaware of the efforts and costs that groups spend to meet their demands. If you actively communicate resource needs with your boss, they will be more receptive to their questions, further reducing your team’s workload.
Unleash the full range of talents in your team
Groups often do not know the full set of skills, knowledge, and abilities within their ranks. This talent is not used to the detriment of team productivity and performance precisely when you need it.
To address this issue and unlock your team’s potential, schedule a meeting to identify all the talented residents of your team. Give team members 10 minutes to reflect and write down their talents and skills. Next, ask each team member to share their list with the team. As they do so, encourage the team to add additional talents or skills they recognize in their partner that they haven’t mentioned.
This simple exercise is a profound eye-opener, revealing hidden talents and helping teams recognize their colleagues when they need help. It also serves as a motivating experience for all participants, as partners rarely discuss and acknowledge each other’s talents and skills in a direct and focused way. In our experience of facilitating this exercise with more than 30 teams and hundreds of participants, each participant has the uplifting experience of having talents that they did not know or that they did not know were added. to their partners.
This simple exercise can provide a significant boost to both team engagement and productivity.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
Faced with overwhelming workloads, teams often overlook opportunities for simplification.
According to Gartner data, 27% of employees and 38% of managers feel overwhelmed by the ever-increasing burden of information. Discuss with your team how to simplify communication and information overload. For example, it is helpful to agree to limit any writings, such as proposals or meeting pre-reads, to a one-page summary that clearly emphasizes its relevance to the current context. In addition, in meetings or chats – where opinions often overflow and unnecessary complexity – encourage participants to focus their ideas on their essence. Encourage team members to step forward by asking, “Can you summarize the essence of your proposal in two sentences?” And as you discuss any workstream or product with your team, always challenge yourself to simplify by asking, “How can we shorten or simplify this?”
The second often neglected area is seeking input from your internal customers on what could be simplified in the solutions or services you offer them. Surprisingly, their insights can illuminate unnecessary complexities that your team may have overlooked. For example, the Dutch company AFAS Software regularly holds meetings with its clients solely dedicated to discussing which features or elements they need to remove from their software solution. This proactive approach ensures that their software remains up-to-date and free of unnecessary complexity.
Layoffs are difficult and stressful for everyone involved. But by implementing the strategies above, you can help protect your team from the harmful effects of overwork. Your efforts will help eliminate low-value work, ensure your team can focus on the most critical work, and improve their morale and engagement.