Healing a Company’s Culture Through Time Away from Work
As of 2023, a multitude of companies have declared hiring freezes, and some have even resorted to layoffs. This transition from prosperity to cost-cutting can result in the immediate dismantling of an organization’s culture. Workers who previously felt secure in their positions with a thriving company are now burdened with stress and anxiety regarding their job security, which puts them at heightened risk of experiencing burnout.
As if burnout isn’t bad enough there will also be employees who will experience employee survivor guilt. That is the feeling of guilt and anxiety that can arise when an individual retains their job while their coworkers are laid off or fired during hiring freezes or budget cuts.
Organizational changes this severe can spark a multitude of employee reactions. Some employees may feel guilty retaining their jobs while their colleagues are left unemployed or struggling to make ends meet. Some will experience a sense of betrayal or disloyalty from their former coworkers, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the organization. For others, these changes may turn to resentment for the organization, causing increased presenteeism and eventual turnover.
Dramatic change can also trigger feelings of insecurity among employees who fear that they too might lose their jobs in the future. This fear can make employees reluctant to take time off work, as they may worry that they are not needed or that their role may become redundant. Such apprehension can cause a surge in stress and anxiety levels, ultimately resulting in burnout.
In times of organizational upheaval, it’s crucial for leaders to prioritize the well-being of their remaining staff. Despite having fewer employees to carry out the same workload, it’s essential for leaders to acknowledge the importance of providing their staff with the freedom to take time off and rejuvenate. This is necessary not only for the individual health and vitality of employees, but also for the health and sustainability of the organization.
Here are a few steps leaders can take to ensure their workforce remains healthy and productive through difficult times.
- Identify susceptible employee groups: This may include talks with frontline managers whose teams are directly, as well as tangentially, impacted by the changes. For example, if you downsized the purchasing group that works very closely with the accounting team, leaders will want to have conversations with the accounting team managers as well as the purchasing group managers to get a pulse on both teams.
- Review your time and attendance system: Pull reports from your time and attendance systems to review the vacation schedules for each of the teams impacted to make certain the remaining employees are still requesting an appropriate amount of time away.
- Create a plan: Work with your middle and frontline managers to build a strategy to support employees taking time away. For example, having managers meet with each team member and discuss travel plans and help them commit to taking time off by a certain date. It’s important that they reassure their employees that they are a vital member of the team, and the company supports their time away.
- Offer tools to help: Help employees make the most of their time away by offering a tool to help them plan, budget, save and book travel at a discount. Having an easy and cost-effective way for employees to take a break can be used as the platform for leaders to communicate support for taking time off. This will be instrumental in breaking down those barriers.
- Revisit your time off policy: Benchmark your current time off plan to make sure it’s competitive in the market. It’s also important to make certain that requesting time away isn’t overly burdensome, making employees feel like they need to ask for permission, or jump through several hoops, for time away. If employees feel it’s too difficult, or they are made to feel uncomfortable about asking for permission, they will not.
- Communicate: Communication is the key when it comes to healing a company culture. Be transparent about the organizations’ support for taking time off and encourage employees to have conversations with their leadership about taking time and other resources that are available to help them transition into the company’s new normal.
- Lead by example: Leaders must lead by example when it comes to creating a healthy culture that includes adequate time away from work. This means modeling the behaviors they want to see in their employees, such as booking that family vacation and unplugging during that time.
- Stay committed: Healing a company culture is crucial to the company’s success but it doesn’t just happen overnight. Consistent and frequent communication over a period of time is necessary to reinforce the message that companies support their employees and support their need for time away.
Even with dramatic organizational changes, leaders can cultivate a positive workplace culture. A culture that promotes the wellbeing and success of all employees by recognizing and dealing with emotions created when downsizing occurs. Another important element to healing is helping employees recognize that taking time away to be with friends and family can help them heal from the changes that occur and the organization fully supports them.