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Written by: Alex Andrews, CPHR

I found myself complaining about work not too long ago. Something trivial happened, what? I really don’t remember, but I was complaining to, of all people, my wife. She let me vent a little, then, in her loving, but sharp way, she said “well, 360,000 Albertans don’t have jobs right now, you could be one of them.” This experience made me think about what was really going on. The reality was, work was good. I have a great team and the business is doing well. What I noticed, however, is that I was getting wrapped up in the doom and gloom of our economy. I was fixated on it. I did an online search for “Layoffs in Alberta” and the following are a few headlines of the nearly 300,000 hits:

  • Chevron Canada says it's cutting more Calgary jobs
  • Statoil Canada cost-cutting reduces Calgary-based workforce by 220
  • Husky Energy confirms 1,400 jobs eliminated in latest round of cost-cutting
  • With 40,000 jobs cut, more layoffs still to come for Canada's energy industry
  • Calfrac Well Services cuts another 500 jobs from North American workforce
  • Nexen lays off 120 more Canadian employees as oil price slump persists
  • CP to cut up to 1,400 jobs in 2016; ConocoPhillips Canada plans to cut upwards of 300 staff, most in Calgary.

To say Alberta is struggling is an understatement.

I noticed that I had been so focused on what was going on, I neglected to see the positive with my position. The reality is, many aren’t so fortunate. The Government of Canada recently released their July statistical report and Alberta’s unemployment rate fell to 8.6%1. I am sure all of us, in one way or another, have been impacted by, or know someone who has had their life turned upside down due to these difficult economic conditions.

In a recent study conducted by CPHR Alberta and published in the Alberta HR Trends Report2, only 25% of those organizations surveyed expect their headcount to rise over the next six months, compared to 70% who said their headcount will either stay the same or decline over the same period. The job market, to say the least, is a volatile place right now.  

It is hard not to get caught up in the emotions and feelings of despair, much like what I did. Reading these headlines, especially if you work for the many employers publically announcing changes, is demoralizing. So what can you do? How do you, I, and every other employer who’s trying to brave the storm lift the spirits of those around them? It is often as simple as not forgetting about those who survive the turmoil.

Show You Value Those Remaining Employees after a Downsizing

Upon graduating from university, I was fortunate to land a good job with a great organization in downtown Calgary. Unfortunately, I was the first new hire following the 2008 and 2009 recession that saw many of the same impacts on Alberta which we are facing today. I noticed, after being there for a few weeks, there was a sense of despondency in my department. Individuals were quiet, somber, and very much to themselves. This went on for a couple of months, until an inspired VP changed it.

He called a Finance department town hall and stated it was required that all attended. We entered the conference centre anxiously eager to hear what was so important to pull us all together. What we didn’t expect, however, was an hour long praise session talking about how wonderful and incredibly valuable we all were. He talked about the trials we had been through, but how we all contribute to the performance of the organization. He made us feel valued and important that day and each one of us walked out a little taller than we were just one hour previous.

You see, no matter how reassuring you or anyone else is, downsizing damages trust. Employees need to be shown they are of value and worth holding onto. We can never guarantee further changes won’t happen, but the unfortunate reality is that many survivors are simply forgotten and expected to just show up the next day, pick up the pieces, and move on. Lighten their load where possible, and praise them for their efforts.

Focus on Career Building and Development

A manager of mine once said, “a downturn in the economy is a great time to upgrade your talent.” For most, a downsizing means heavier workloads and new tasks perhaps not performed previous. Identifying and providing additional training, resources and support which your survivors feel they need will increase their level of satisfaction and sense of self-esteem as they feel they are being invested in. Though 37% of organizations surveyed in CPHR Alberta’s Alberta Trends Report reported a decrease in headcount in the last six months, the average budgeted spending on learning and development rose from 3.4% to 3.9%3 over the same time period. This added focus on training will yield dividends as the economy returns to its new normal. Investing in talent development during a down economy means a strong, focused and engaged workforce on the backend.

Whether discussing their value or career development, our goal for supporting our survivors is to help them feel confident that they have the capacity to contribute, to grow and develop, and to master the changed work environment.

Build Trust and Manage Emotions

I once learned that trust is the result of accountability plus working towards a common objective. Following a downsizing, focus on building and restoring trust. Survivors will feel vulnerable and as though their family has been devastated. They are experiencing loss and will need to grieve. Some may even feel inadequate and that they should have been let go instead.

Show that you care for them, trust them, and want to invest in them, while working beside them towards a common goal – even if it is just staying afloat for now. This will speak volumes in the long run. It has once been said that “your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.” So make and keep commitments. Show those who survive a downsizing that they matter and you will work with them to accomplish their objectives. But most importantly, hold up your end of the bargain.

Not every employee will instantly turn around and feel content amid changes, but if nothing else, being consistent in your honesty and appreciation will have great power to carry them through and improve morale.   


Alex Andrews, CPHR is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at aandrews@rockymtn.com.

Sources:

  1. Alberta Unemployment Rate – July 2016 – http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/lfss01c-eng.htm
  2. Alberta HR Trends Report Fall 2016, Pg. 3 – 6 Month Outlook
  3. Alberta HR Trends Report Fall 2016, Pg. 9 – Learning and Development