Tackling Layoff Culture with Retention in Mind

“We’re in a layoff culture.” This statement echoed during one of my recent networking calls, causing a reflective pause. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-accurate portrayal of the current climate across various organizations, big and small.


The Growing Trend of Organizational Downsizing

A recent Business Insider article sheds light on this unsettling trend:

“A slew of companies across the tech, media, finance, and retail industries made significant cuts to staff in 2023. Tech titans like Google and Meta, finance giants like Goldman Sachs, and manufacturers like Dow all announced layoffs. 2024 is already looking grim. And it’s only February.”

The article also highlights a new survey that paints a worrying picture for businesses ahead:

  • 38% of business leaders anticipate layoffs
  • About 50% expect a hiring freeze
  • The surveyed group included around 900 leaders from organizations with over 10 employees


An underlying fear of a looming recession plays a substantial role in these expectations.


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The Ripple Effects of Restructuring

When an organization decides to implement restructuring or layoffs, the repercussions extend far beyond the individuals directly affected. Beyond the obvious impact on those leaving, layoffs profoundly affect the workplace atmosphere and morale of the remaining workforce.

Employees who remain, often referred to as “survivors,” may experience a wave of emotions, from guilt for being spared to fear of future job security. This emotional toll can manifest in various detrimental ways, including decreased engagement, lower productivity, and diminished loyalty to the company. 


Understanding the Emotional Dynamics

Leadership must recognize the psychological toll on these “survivors” and address their concerns to prevent an engagement crisis. This involves recognizing the human element in these decisions and taking steps to reaffirm the value and importance of each team member’s contributions during times of change. It starts by:

  • Acknowledging emotions: Understanding the guilt and fear that employees may feel is the first step.
  • Proactive support: Offering psychological support and being transparent can maintain employee trust.


Rebuilding After Restructuring

After a period of layoffs, it becomes imperative for an organization to revisit its approach to compensation and benefits for the remaining workforce.


Morale-Boosting Measures

This is a strategic moment to ensure that compensation packages remain competitive within the industry. This critical assessment helps reinforce the organization’s position as a desirable employer, crucial for retaining existing talent and attracting new hires in the future.

While direct salary increases may not be immediately feasible, alternative rewards and benefits can be just as effective:


These actions reinforce an organization’s investment in its people and help position it as an employer of choice.


Non-Traditional Benefits

Now is also a good time to exploring unique benefits that align with evolving workforce expectations. Some examples:


Offering one or all of these can further align you with the workforce at large, making employees feel truly valued and recognized for their contributions and resilience during transition periods.


Clear Communication is Critical

When reducing costs and conducting layoffs, how leaders communicate changes is pivotal to maintaining trust.


Foster an Open Dialogue

It’s not merely about sharing information; it’s about creating conversation(s) that foster trust. Leaders are tasked with the challenge of delivering messages with clarity and compassion, detailing not just the “what” and the “why” behind the decisions, but also outlining the mechanisms in place for those affected.  By keeping channels of communication open, leaders can:

  • Clearly articulate the reasons and effects of layoffs
  • Detail available support for affected individuals
  • Combat rumors with transparency


Make Yourself Accessible

So, open dialogue is essential, but how can you ensure employees feel their thoughts are welcome? Providing platforms for employees to voice concerns or ask questions can aid in mitigating fears. Do this with:

  • Open office hours
  • Regular employee check-ins
  • Leadership one-on-ones


Tip: Or get get creative. In one of my previous roles, we held breakfast meetings with C-level executives. It was an opportunity for team members to ask them anything, and because it came in an informal format — coffee and a chat — it naturally felt more like a dialogue. 


Ask for — and Accept — Feedback

It may not seem like a great time to run an employee survey, but doing so sends a message to  “survivors”: leadership cares.

Employee surveys offer a prime opportunity to collect valuable feedback. They convey a powerful message to the workforce—you are invested in trust-building. But you have to also act on the feedback you receive. These surveys are not just evaluative tools but a step towards empowering employees to redefine the organization’s culture and demonstrate a commitment to collective progress.


Use Your Resilience to Rebuild

I once heard a great definition of resilience: “Resilience isn’t the ability to bounce back, but the ability to bounce forward.”  Resilience in leadership transcends the capability to recover—it’s about propelling forward with vision. Leaders must take the opportunity to chart a clear trajectory for their teams, which includes revising objectives or setting new OKRs.


Adaptations in Team and Leadership Structures

Your team dynamics have undergone change, introducing new leaders and altering collaboration. It’s essential to work on team-building and setting these new dynamics up for success. At The Wellness Value, when working with organizations going through this transformation, we use the Predictive Index  It helps the teams move through the forming stage much quicker.


Engagement and Recognition: Pillars of Change


Acknowledging Efforts and Accomplishments

In periods of change, foregrounding engagement and recognition is crucial. Establishing practices that recognize employee contributions fosters a culture where workers feel valued and integral.


Set Clear Objectives

Conveying clear, reachable targets gives team members direction and a sense of purpose. Consistent communication and open feedback channels are also instrumental in maintaining motivation and concentration among employees.


Encouraging Consistent Check-ins

Integrating regular check-ins ensures that employees have a platform to voice concerns, share ideas, and feel heard, further enhancing their connection to the organization.


The Non-Monetary Aspect of Recognition

Recognition doesn’t always need to come in the form of monetary rewards. Instead, simple acts, such as gestures of appreciation, public praise, or opportunities for career advancement, can significantly affect morale. Highlighting team and personal milestones boosts confidence and underlines the importance of each person’s role in the company’s achievements.


Beyond Immediate Change

Fostering an environment that celebrates loyalty and dedication encourages staff retention and engagement during transitions and beyond. Such an ambiance not only nurtures employees’ welfare but lays a strong foundation for attracting and holding on to exceptional talent. Thus, ensuring that the organization stands resilient and competitive amidst adversity.



  • Employee Feedback: Critical in shaping a supportive work culture.
  • Resilient Leadership: Defines the momentum for moving forward.
  • Team Building: Key in adjusting to new dynamics.
  • Recognition: Fundamental for morale and loyalty.


Michelle Strasburger has dedicated over two decades to advancing Human Resources (HR) and wellness in the workplace. As the CEO and Chief Consultant of The Wellness Value, LLC, she focuses on transforming companies’ people strategies as a fractional Chief Human Resources Officer and consultant. Her wealth of experience encompasses progressive HR roles in small, medium, Fortune 500, and start-up businesses, and her passion for putting people first shines through in everything she does.