Q. My company just announced an upcoming “restructuring.” We won’t hear anything for a few months, and my team is, understandably, on edge. I’ve told some employees who report to me that they have nothing to worry about — their role is vital to the division and they are excellent employees — but now I’m not so sure about anyone. What should I say and do in this situation?
A. Everyone in an organization should be aware that restructuring is a standard method of workforce management, and it doesn’t help to be on edge about it. What does help is always being prepared to have to start a new job search, regardless of whether a restructuring has been announced. This means making sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are both complete and current, and that you are regularly devoting time to networking — not just when you are in job search mode. Networking helps you determine what your worth is externally and what other employers might be of interest to you.
Being prepared doesn’t mean slacking off at work, though — staying committed and focused on your current role is vital.
As a manager, telling people they have nothing to worry about is not the conversation you want to have. Telling people they are excellent employees is certainly great management, and you should continue to do that. Businesses change direction, and even the best employees can be affected by restructurings and layoffs. Instead of making promises you can’t keep, reiterate the values and integrity of the company and refocus everyone on the tasks at hand. For example, say something like this: “It’s a great company that prides itself on treating employees well. In the past when we’ve had to restructure, we’ve made sure that people received severance, benefit continuation, and outplacement.” Emphasize that you want to help everyone to continue doing a great job and that the organization will do everything it can to remain a good place to work.
A manager should be calming employees’ anxiety and re-recruiting the company’s best people during this time of uncertainty. Be careful not to default to the casual “don’t worry about it” conversation — it might seem like an easy fix, but it isn’t valuable for anyone. Instead, reassure people of their expertise, the value they bring, and the organization’s desire to treat people fairly. You might even be educating your team about the fact that this is what the workforce looks like now. There are constant restructurings and changes in direction, and being able to handle uncertainty and adapt as needed — being resilient — are valuable traits for employees. The best thing that a manager can do is to make sure employees continue developing their skills and a strong professional network so they remain employable.
False reassurances are not going to help anyone in the long run. The reality is you don’t know what will happen. A restructuring could mean a lot of things that don’t always result in layoffs — empty positions might be eliminated, or reporting lines might be redrawn. Even though a mid- or senior-level executive wants to provide reassurance, they don’t always have the information to do that. And even if their reassurances were accurate, the business’s needs could change a month later, changing everything along with it. Employees ultimately need to own and manage their own careers, not rely on false assurance from management.Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.