Question: We have had some recent layoffs and that has affected staff morale. I am worried that my workers are probably more concerned about whether they are going to hang onto their jobs than they are about working safely. What can I do to encourage them to focus on doing their jobs safely during this period of uncertainty?
Answer: Safety is important. So is paying the mortgage and putting food on the table. And while no one will argue that employees need to keep their minds on the safety related aspects of their work at all times, in times of job insecurity or announced or pending layoffs, sometimes concentration and vigilant levels of safety can be a challenge.
Support and Communication
There are two main things that you need to consider devoting time to— providing support and ensuring good communication to those who will remain with the company, and keeping a close eye on possible workers compensation issues.
There is no conflict in both these cautions. You need to have concern for the mental health and well-being of those who will continue to work for you during periods of employment uncertainty, and you should also understand that during uncertain times, some people may resort to less than honorable alternatives to ensure they may still be able to pay their bills and put food on the table.
Here are some of the areas which should take some of your attention:
The negative impact of layoffs can have a profound and negative impact those who remain with the company but who are uncertain about their future. Some have referred to this as ‘survivor syndrome’.
Those folks who have been identified to be laid off will probably have a difficult time both emotionally and financially. Money and self-confidence are two victims of the layoff process.
Don’t think that management is not impacted by staff layoffs as well. Not only are they the ones who many times have to be the bearer of bad news but they will also be the ones to stay behind and have to manage those left behind.
Honesty, Openness and Ongoing Communication, Communication, Communication is the Key
There is no joy or easy way to execute the layoff process. No one will like it and regardless of what you say, no one is going to go out with a smile on their face. If you don’t already have a process in place for dealing with the pending layoff process, start now by creating one in consultation with members of your management team.
Be sure that there are processes in place that your company can offer those who may need some additional help or assistance. Some may not take advantage of it, but try like heck to lobby to have these supports made available to staff.
Watch for Any Retaliation
The folks who are left behind may feel that they now have to pick up the workload of those who have left. They may feel resentful and they may be downright angry.
Acknowledge that resentment but also be very careful about possible resentment which might manifest itself in ways in which some folks might attempt to “stick it to” the company. Sabotage, damaging equipment and tampering with IT may all be possibilities. So while you need to be sensitive to the mood and temperament to those staff that remain, you also need to keep a reasonable eye on those areas where reactions to those layoffs might have consequences for the company.
And keep a very close eye on your claims experience. There is no assertion here that your claims will increase; however, it is always prudent to keep an eye on any and all claims, at all times, even in the time of layoffs. And, as with any claim, be prepared to support it based on evidence that it arose out of and in the course of employment, or contest it based on the lack of evidence that it arose out of and in the course of employment.
Just because someone decides to submit a claim does not necessarily mean that the evidence will support it happened at work, or because of work-related exposures. While the benefit of doubt is typically given to the injured worker, the burden of proof is placed on the employer to produce evidence in support of, or in denial of a claim.
Question answered by Wayne Pardy, health, safety, environmental and quality (HSEQ) manager at Wood Group PSN.