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 generally requires anticipating future needs and adapting to those needs. Sometimes, as we are experiencing during this current COVID crisis, we have to be ready to innovate and respond to an immediate situation. One area of HR that leaders generally do not like to think about involves reductions in force (RIFs). 

A RIF may involve immediate layoffs or a staged approach, in which employees are notified in advance of a future termination date due to an organization ceasing, changing, or downsizing operations. Regardless of the reason, you want to ensure you have a sound process and avoid adverse impact, as well as any perception of discrimination. When you’re facing a staged RIF, innovative thinking, clear communication, and respect can help maintain a positive work environment throughout the transition.

Here’s how to adopt a thoughtful approach during a staged RIF.

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

Employees in jeopardy of losing their jobs can lose trust and heart in the organization, which is why it’s critical to keep the lines of communication open. 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. Instead of relying on one communication vehicle, use a varied approach:

  • Schedule regular “town hall” meetings
  • Address top questions through an online FAQ
  • Share weekly (or in the current climate, perhaps daily) email updates or posts to your intranet

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

Think outside the box about future needs

Cash is king in turbulent times and organizations generally can’t afford to offer financial incentives to retain key employees in times of crisis. Consider what else your employees care about and what will grow the future of your business. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Education: Workforce development opportunities, career coaching, leadership development activities
  • Benefits: Employee assistance workshops, extra attention paid to mental health such as meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Job shadowing: Creating opportunities for employees to gain experience in an area where they’d like to grow, to build their resume and help with future work opportunities
  • Flexible work schedules: Offering favorable schedules that employees need, especially when working from home

It’s important to retain employees as long as possible, so putting time and effort into looking at how you can incentivize them to stay is worthwhile.

Reinforce opportunities to interact with colleagues

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, connection, and 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—for example, you could close out the week with a time for everybody to enjoy a “quarantini” via video call.
  • Team building activities that reinforce opportunities to connect (this post is a great resource for easy-to-implement activities, most or all of which can be done remotely).
  • Shared fitness experiences to help reduce stress. It’s amazing what you can do for fitness, even with a small space and limited budget—many local yoga studios are offering live-streamed classes over Zoom, for example. Encourage employees to share what they’re doing to keep their immune systems strong.

RIFs may impact your entire organization, many, or a few employees, but the periods leading up to and following them are challenging for everyone. Being innovative and thoughtful as you develop your plan can help mitigate the loss of productivity and reinforce trust for employees. Regardless of your organization or industry, the way you treat employees during a RIF speaks volumes for years to come.