Employee Engagement and Motivation – Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing

Survive and Succeed by Adapting to Change

This is the last Q&A of a 6 part series on employee motivation and engagement. You might prefer to start with reading the introduction here.

Patricia asks:

I am afraid of losing my job due to downsizing. How do I keep my employees motivated when I am having a hard time staying motivated?

Patricia, this is a $1Million worth question!

Here’s my “tough love” answer:

One thing that is inevitable is change, especially through tough economy and market times. As the stress and anxiety level among employees increases, it is kind of difficult to keep them motivated. As a leader, if you fear losing your job, putting on a happy, smiling face takes a lot of effort. It is normal especially if friends and colleagues have been let go. Don’t try to pretend that everything is fine. Expressing your emotions is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength that let’s our guards down to being human. If you don’t express your emotions, it will most likely make things worse. Once you do, it will be easier to move on in a positive approach and will encourage your employees to collaborate even during hard times and changes. Do not underestimate the power of being REAL!

Keeping Yourself Motivated

It is important not to ignore the possibility of losing your job. However, your focus should be on giving your best at what you do. You see, it is so easy to get caught up in all the discussions in the hallways, gathering at a colleague’s office, bathrooms, etc. If you and your team continue being of value for the company, chances are you will not be let go. I realize this is not easy, feelings of bitterness and betrayal from the company can enter your mind. What’s important to realize, is you must stop seeing the situation through your feelings of what’s right or wrong. You will become your own worst enemy if you blame the company for your misery and situation. Whether the company’s decision is a good or a bad one, is not the point. Why? Because you don’t have any control over it. You need to shut down all the outside “noise” and focus on the things you can control. See the situation as part of life challenges and that you are the only one who chooses how to overcome it and move forward.

Worst Case Scenario

It is very understandable to worry about not having a paycheck coming in. If that were to happen, what is your realistic worst case scenario? Instead of trying to resist change and hope it won’t happen to you, start right now preparing for it. Brainstorm through how you would deal with specific scenarios. This way, you won’t be caught off guard. You will be emotionally prepared for the change in your life. Usually, during downsizing and layoffs, companies offer a package. How bad could it really be if you were let go? Know your facts. Chances are it would not be as bad as you imagine. Knowing all the details, helps in reducing the stress. You will feel more confident and secure.

“People who let events and circumstances dictate their lives are living reactively. That means that they don’t act on life, they only react to it.” — Stedman Graham

Be of Value

As I said earlier, it is important to continue doing the best job ever. The days where pretty much a job was guaranteed at a company until retirement, are over. The best way to increase your chances of keeping your current job and stay competitive in the future job market is to increase your value. You are probably really good at what you are presently doing, but with continuous change in our fast pace environment, the only way to remain competitive is by choosing to make yourself incredibly valuable.  Let your curiosity get the best of you. You can develop your current skills by getting involved in projects within the company or try taking it to the next level. Exceed your limits, dare to explore new skills outside your comfort zone. One major reason why most of us feel stuck is because we feel we have to keep doing the same type of job. The more knowledge we have and try different things, we will be more motivated and confident in ourselves. I know it is scary, but don’t let your fear make your decisions. It is not easy when we cannot see the end result. We want certainty and don’t want to lose what is familiar to us. This is precisely why stress and anxiety kicks in. Remember, if you focus on things you can control, you will not be paralyzed by the big issues. Of course, you cannot ignore them, but they will no longer hold you back. Yes, you may still lose your job, but you will be taking all that baggage of knowledge, energy and experience with you. This is why, change is considered as an opportunity for personal growth!

“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.”— Robert E. Quinn

Keeping Your Team Motivated

The points I mentioned in my previous posts, will definitely apply here. They are habits that should be practiced regularly. So, you may go back to them for reference. However, I will just add a few more vital points given this particular scenario:


Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate! Just to be sure that the importance of this one has come across, I will repeat it.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate!

I cannot stress this one enough, Communication is KEY.

I know that front line leaders have no control over what happens at a higher level. You are faced with a difficult challenge particularly if you are not being kept in the loop. If you are given any information, you are told not to share it with employees. “We cannot cause a panic among the employees.” Maybe you can bring them in the loop on something. They are already in a panic! Keeping things under the rug increases anxiety and fear. Now, the rumors and gossip have started circulating across the organization. Often, rumors are a lot more damaging than the truth. You see, employees know there’s something going on and not telling them means that what you are hiding must be brutal. There is a line between hiding in the office, not saying anything and saying too much. The not knowing creates high levels of anxiety and has major impact on their performance and productivity. Keep employees in the loop early in the process. I assure you, nothing bad will happen. Treat them with respect and trust and they will return the same treatment. Hearing it from you first, or senior management, goes a long way in building trust and loyalty with employees. Even if the news is not good, they will feel like part of the team and valued.

Be Present

I know that leaders have a heavy workload, however, do not underestimate the power of taking the time to walk over to your team and spend time with them EVERYDAY! It is important to be genuine in the time you spend with them. Give them that morning energy boost to start their day. I know those emails need to get send, you will get to them. Start by going to see your employees. A relationship build on loyalty and trust is something that is worth investing on a day-to-day basis. Ask them how they feel and their thoughts about the current situation. Don’t worry about opening a can of worms, the idea here is to let them vent. Demonstrate understanding and empathize with them. Let them know that you will keep them updated and offer support. It is true that some employees will never be completely satisfied, once the situation cools off, all your efforts will not go unforgotten.

“They may forget what you said, they may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buecher

Let Them Feel Valued

It is always important to acknowledge an employee’s contributions and efforts. Now more than ever, employees need to feel that they are of value. Make it a point to recognize their work and give credit where it is due. Point out a specific example, an employee will really feel appreciated if you are able to tell them why and how they have contributed to the company’s success. If you can make an extra effort in sharing some of their accomplishments within the department, it will make it that much more meaningful. Companies should have opportunities to make contributions from frontline employees to be noticed by all level management.

Focus on Their Strength

Everyone has strengths, know your employees individual strengths and create opportunities where they can use them. It is true that during downsizing, an employee is less motivated. However, if an employee feels that his work counts, that he is being given opportunities to use his strengths, grow and learn, he will be more motivated in doing quality work. Knowing your employees strengths will provide you with inside information on what motivates them.

Get them involved in decision making. Ask for their input in problem solving and engage them to participate in the resolutions. Give them clear realistic goals and expectations. Support them to make sure they have everything they need to complete the work. Give them sufficient resources, access to information, remove any obstacles, but give them autonomy and responsibilities in setting them up. Having control of their work will continue to inspire motivation. Follow and recognize their progress. There is an “inner fulfillment” when someone feels they are progressing in a meaningful project or work. It is important to set smaller realistic goals not to overwhelm them. It will boost their self confidence by taking small attainable goals and progressing daily. The key here is that now, more than ever, they completely understand and are clear about why they are doing something. How does their work contribute value to the company?  One thing I learned that is often ignored is that employees or any human being wants to feel that they are of value. If you create opportunities for them to have an impact in the work they do, it will feed an inner emptiness.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer (Fight of the Buffalo)

Have Fun

I know this is a stressful time for everyone, but take some time with your employees to laugh. Laughter is one the best and fun motivators out there. It doesn’t cost anything to spread around. Think about it, you and your employees probably spend more together in a day than with your own families. You are all in this together. Support each other, listen to each other, please, don’t forget to laugh together. It is a very powerful stress reliever and highly effective towards motivation in the workplace.

Conclusion: These are the top 5 questions I’ve received from leaders. I hope they have helped you in some way. As I mentioned in the beginning, my answers have been based on my personal experience accumulated in the past 16 years of coaching individuals and teams.

Please, share any suggestions that I have not mentioned that has had a positive outcome in your role as a leader. Even if your role is not within the workplace, we can all learn and grow from you.

Do you have a question that has not been answered in these series? Are you facing another challenge that is getting in the way of your success with leadership and team building? Then, I’d love to hear from you. Send them to me personally.

The full Q&A series are:

  1. Introduction
  2. Transition From Employee to Team Leader
  3. Getting Employees to Listen to You
  4. Managing Different Personalities in a Team
  5. Telling an Employee They’re not Ready for a Promotion
  6. Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing
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This entry was posted in Cleansing Your Beliefs, Curiosity For Knowledge and tagged , .

9 Responses to Employee Engagement and Motivation – Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing

  1. Agustin says:


    I will never understand why leaders believe that the best thing for employees is to keep them in the dark!

    The only thing you are doing, is telling them that you do not trust them with the truth and that you are dishonest. Actually, by not telling them the truth, you are making them fearful.

    • Antonia says:

      Absolutely Agustin!

      Telling them the truth show that you respect them. I prefer being around “truth sayers”. What they have to say provides with valuable information to improve myself.

  2. Christine says:

    Being mentally prepared is crucial!

    As someone who was let go from my previous job, I can say that had I followed your advice, it would have been much smoother than what I went through. We had gone through many lay offs over the course of 2 years. I would panic every time, fear that I would be next. At the time, the easiest thing to do seemed to be part of all the bitter discussions, “How can they do this to us?” I made it through the first 3 cuts and then BAM, my number came up! I was devastated, I felt my life was over. I had no clue what to do.

    Today, I realize that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was the kick in the butt I needed to step out of my comfortable old slippers and do something so much more exciting!

    It took a long time for me to stop crying and feel sorry for myself (months). I was faced with a situation where feeling sorry for myself was not going to change my circumstance.
    Had I taken this approach earlier on, it would have saved me from a long mourning period.
    It’s true, we don’t have any control over this situation, yet we focus on the things we can’t control. Don’t do this to yourself or your employees. It is so refreshing when you face your fear.

    • Antonia says:

      Christine thank you so much for sharing your personal experience!

      I have actually been around many people who have experienced the same as you. They have all said the same thing, “it was the best thing that could have happened to me.” Most of them discovered new interests which they pursued. The more we learn, the more we become of value and our self confidence strengthens.

  3. meagan says:

    This reminds me of the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. It is an excellent motivational read that describes 4 different reactions to change in our work and life, portrayed by 2 mice and 2 little people.

    It allows us to see how we can make ourselves practically become extinct when we are resistent to change and unprepared for the inevitable. We victimize ourselves and blame others for disrupting our routine, hoping that things will go back to the way they are. It’s their fear of unknown that is creating their misery.
    We see how when we are open to change, adapt to it, mentally prepared for it, move past our fears, we can savour the change and enjoy the new beginnings.

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Meagan,

      I love that book! Thanks for sharing this here. It is a great read and would strongly recommend it. Definitely applies to adapting to change.

  4. athelma says:

    I like what you have had to say with motivation of employees at the moment we are studding effectivity of the individuals which has not been done with success before. now we can and have found some people lacking but I have worked with three individuals and have found my encouraging then to fill in time sheets more accurately and asking them to organize them selves better first thing in the day before they start by having every thing they need right there with them they have increased there effectivity by 20 % and holding it there. Also they are very happy with me for working with them which has in its self motivated them.

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Athelma,

      Thanks for sharing this very important point!
      It is actually a great technique to apply in our everyday lives. It keeps us in tuned with our priorities, instead of being all over the place and always feeling like we have not accomplished anything. Thanks for sharing the result from this activity, it is truly amazing!

  5. Pingback: Powerful Tips in Making a Transition from Employee to Leader