Innovative HR involves the implementation of new ideas and methods to better meet the ever-evolving requirements of an organization and its workforce. Bringing an innovative approach to HR requires anticipating future needs and adapting to those needs, rather than responding to an immediate crisis or situation. One area of HR that leaders may not want to think about involves reductions in force (RIF). But as a recent Seattle headline, “Starbucks plans corporate shake-up and layoffs, starting with senior execs,” no organization is completely exempt from RIFs.

A RIF may involve immediate layoffs, or a RIF may be a staged approach in which employees are notified in advance of a future termination date due to an organization ceasing operation. Reading the headline about Starbucks made me reflect on my HR experience assisting organizations with downsizing their employee base. While difficult, a RIF doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. You always want to ensure you have a sound process and avoid adverse impact as well as any perception of discrimination. And, when you’re facing a staged RIF—in which employees are notified in advance that the organization will be shutting down operations—innovation can help maintain a positive work environment.

Here’s how to adopt an innovative approach during a staged RIF:

Communicate about the good and bad news, as well as what you don’t know

Employees in jeopardy of losing their jobs often lose trust in the organization, which is why it’s critical to keep the lines of communication open. If you don’t, they will quickly “jump ship” which can lead to unexpected operational challenges and a negative impact on your reputation as a good employer.  You want to do everything you can to share information that will help employees understand details about the timing of the layoffs, the impact to their job or department, and any incentives the organization will offer to encourage people to stay. And sometimes, when decisions haven’t been made, be willing to tell employees you don’t have the answers–yet.  Tell them you care, and that communication will happen as soon as decisions are made.  Don’t rely on one communication vehicle; instead use a varied approach by:

  • Scheduling town hall meetings
  • Providing an online FAQ which answers top questions
  • Sending weekly email updates or posts to the organization’s intranet

Ensure that every communication is honest and helps to create a trusting environment that encourages employees by appreciating their contributions, as well as providing updates about the situation.

Encourage people to stay with incentives

If your organization is acquired, it’s likely there are requirements to maintain standard operations until full acquisition occurs. In this case, you want to keep your staff in place until the transition is complete. That can be tricky because employees know the end date is drawing near and they may actively start searching for employment elsewhere. To avoid losing top talent consider putting incentives in place including:

  • Financial incentives: bonuses, severance packages, early retirement
  • Education: workforce development opportunities, job search assistance, career counseling
  • Benefits: extension of coverage, employee assistance workshops
  • Job shadowing: create opportunities for employees to get experience in an area in which they want to grow. If they can gather new knowledge and skills in an area of interest, employees will stay to gain experience which they can add to their resume and which may help with future work opportunities.
  • Flexible work schedules: offer favorable schedules that employee’s like will give them one more reason to stay

It behooves your organization to retain existing employees as long as possible, so putting time and effort into looking at how you can incentivize them to stay is worth it.

Reinforce opportunities to interact with colleagues

Finally, make sure you focus on trying to keep the culture and work environment positive. Look for creative ways to reinforce opportunities for employees to interact with one another. Continue offering the development workshops or community activities you’ve provided in the past.

You can also look for ways to build new opportunities to connect, such as:

  • A weekly team social gathering to share food and conversation
  • Team building activities that reinforce opportunities to connect (this post has a great resource of easy-to-implement activities)
  • On-site fitness opportunities to help reduce stress can also serve as a good way for employees to interact. It is amazing what you can do for fitness, even with a small space and limited budget.

The timeframe before and after a staged RIF is challenging for everyone in an organization; however, creating a plan based on an innovative HR approach can help mitigate the loss of productivity and reinforce trust for employees. It may impact an entire organization, many, or a few employees. Regardless of the organization or industry, the way you treat employees during a RIF speaks volumes for years to come.

Check back for my next post about how to assess your workforce in preparation for a RIF. It will be published here in November!