Did the Going Get Tough? Keep Employees Engaged!

We’ve recently spoken with a few clients who, unfortunately, due to economic difficulties, have had to lay off some of their workforce. Now, they feel as though the remaining staff is not confident about their future in the company, and as a result, have become disengaged. This turned into a great opportunity for us to discuss ways to engage employees during difficult times.

Engaging employees after a reduction in force (RIF) was a hot topic about three years ago, at the height of the economic recession. Unfortunately, many businesses are still suffering the effects of the recession. After doing a little research in a few blogs, websites, and discussion forums, I compiled some advice and steps that you, as leaders of your company, can take to ensure that employees feel secure and engaged. Here, I will outline how to use Kudos in conjunction with the three steps to dealing with a difficult time suggested by Leadership Beyond Limits, LLC: Healing, Hope, and Health.


The way you treat those leaving determines the trust you have with those staying. In other words, show kindness, concern, and support for all your employees, including the ones who are leaving.  Send Kudos to those who are leaving and announce that they will be missed.  This is also the time to send meaningful Kudos recognition more often than ever. You want to inspire trust, so your organization can move forward.

Conduct honest truth sessions. Express emotion and allow for open communication. Be clear about what is and what is not happening in the organization – describe what has changed and what has not changed. Explain the reasons behind the need for downsizing and any other changes taking place. Clear communication prevents rumours and gossiping.

Invest time with front-line managers. Help them understand the complexity of their problems and your motives behind the decision. Delegate tough decisions to them so they come to understand the situation.

If you can’t offer job security, offer job predictability. Be clear and transparent about not only what is presently happening, but also how you foresee the short and long-term future of the company.

Listen to your employees. When communicating with them, ensure that you listen more and talk less. Most likely, they feel guilty that they survived the downsizing, and/or fear they might be next. They may have survived the layoff but they, too, are healing from the shockwave.


Plant the seeds of hope. Compose a vision of the organization that inspires employees. Build confidence in the future as much as you share bad news about the present. Share your optimism in the future and involve your managers in the movement.  By doing so, your managers will, in turn, inspire their employees to unite in rising from the dust. Let this positive vibe radiate throughout the whole company!

Invite all employees to collaborate and build on the new vision. Ask them to share how they see the future of the company and listen to their ideas about how to attain that vision. Your employees want the organization to succeed and they will help you make that happen if you let them! 

Write announcements and update the Kudos wiki, so that everyone in the organization is aware of and involved in the progress. Also, utilize your personal status to convey your on-going thoughts towards the company's vision and how things are improving.


As things start to improve, employees will begin to re-engage at their own pace. Offer the support and encouragement they need to move forward, but don’t force them to overcome the shock too quickly.

If you feel that it has been difficult to give constructive feedback during the healing process, begin re-implementing it but avoid telling employees what to do. Instead, ask employees what their short- and long-term performance goals are and do what you can to facilitate the realization of these goals!

If possible, assign a Kudos Ambassador to update the communication wikis and announcements to ensure employees have up-to-date information about what is happening in the organization through the recovery process. This person could even organize fun activities and inexpensive programs to engage the staff.

The only way to overcome difficult times such as these is by energizing the entire workforce to feel united in the single cause to rebuild the organization. This is the time to truly test and build your culture. Difficult times are great opportunities to redefine and strengthen your corporate culture.

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