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Leadership Training: The Simple Truth to Supporting Layoffs

Your company, like many others, is grappling with layoffs, and it’s not an easy decision. So, Leadership training is probably not the first thing on your mind. More likely, you’re worried about morale, and with good reason: one study found that surviving employees experienced a 41% decline in job satisfaction. You might also be concerned about worker retention or bandwidth. Downsizing has also been found to increase voluntary turnover by 31%. Sadly, there’s only so much training can do. That’s the unfortunate truth you have to accept as learning professionals. But, don’t shove your employee development to the back burner. The right training can still reduce the impact on your employees.

After careful analysis of your performance challenges, you might decide that reskilling your employees would be more effective than laying them off. However, if your situation does call for layoffs, leadership training is essential. Your leaders will need to provide adequate support to your remaining staff. Furthermore, your remaining employees will likely take on more responsibilities, so they’ll need reskilling or cross-boarding in new areas as well.

Reskilling to Prevent Layoffs

Layoffs create disruption—lower morale, bitterness, loss of faith in the company. So, it falls on learning and development teams to communicate with leadership and clearly explain the business impact of making such a transition without corporate training to support employees. Carefully consider other options before committing to downsizing. Look at long-term strategic change rather than short-term costs. Because between severance packages and re-hiring, layoffs may actually be a more expensive option.

In some cases, re-skilling your workers might be more cost-effective in the long run. For instance, in 2013, the leadership at AT&T realized that 100,000 of its 240,000 jobs would no longer be relevant in a decade. But they didn’t want to lose tribal knowledge and expertise, lower morale, or foster distrust. So, instead of laying people off, AT&T decided to invest in reskilling their workers. Four years later, in 2017, revenue had increased by 27%, and AT&T was ranked as one of Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for.

When your company is considering layoffs, make sure you’re looking at other options, too. There may still be a path to success for your current workforce.

The Role of Leadership Training

Sometimes downsizing is the best long-term solution for your company. When that’s the case, make sure you have a plan to take care of your remaining employees through compassionate leadership and performance support.

Downsizing is a time of uncertainty and change, so capable, compassionate leadership is paramount. Leadership training can help your managers and company leaders prepare and thrive through the transition. Generally, employees may feel some relief to still have a job. However, it’s often more complicated than that. Surviving workers may also feel guilt or sadness about losing workplace relationships. Research by Gallup has found a strong positive relationship between workplace friendships and engagement. 63% of respondents were twice as likely to be engaged if they have a close friend at work. Moreover, employees will be taking on new responsibilities that may leave them feeling anxious or overworked.

Your companies leaders will need to be equipped with the skills to actively listen to concerns and complaints from their remaining employees, as well as how to respond with compassion. Leadership should also be open and transparent about new company structures or policies, and forthcoming about changing expectations from remaining workers.

Performance Support

During layoffs, you’ll need to consider changes in capacity or employee bandwidth. Work that was once spread among 100 people might now be handled by 80. What will your remaining employees have to take on? What operations will need to be cut or reduced? This would be a great time to look closely at the remaining talent pool and conduct a thorough needs analysis to find knowledge and performance gaps.

At this point, you’re not only reskilling or cross-boarding your learners but providing support for any responsibilities that they’ve maintained in the transition. So, performance support through on-the-job training modalities will be essential. Training content needs to be easily accessible to reduce the impact on your learners’ performance requirements — any time spent training will be time taken away from their role. This means finding the best way to deliver content. In some cases, that will be a short explainer video, simulation, while in other cases SOP documents and checklists will due. Regardless, your solution will need to utilize a mobile learning strategy to provide effortless access.

Career Growth

With positive, compassionate leadership and adequate performance support for your workforce, you can help your remaining employees see life after layoffs as an opportunity for growing their careers. You probably retained hard-working, capable employees, but high performers are especially likely to voluntarily seek other opportunities after layoffs. Providing training content that helps these employees grow into larger roles will give them a reason to stay with the company, and it will help them be optimistic about the direction their careers are taking. Give employees time to take optional training courses, and encourage them to explore new directions now that their roles are expanding.


Your organization may be considering layoffs. Before doing so, consider whether reskilling your workforce would be more cost-effective in the long run, and discuss the transition with leadership. But when layoffs are inevitable, leadership training will be invaluable. Capable leaders can help their remaining employees through the transition. If employees have supported through the transition, you can avoid losses in performance, motivation, and turnover. More importantly, your employees will feel more optimistic about their future with the company.