The rise in manager layoffs demands more from communicators. Here’s why.

How comms teams can help the managers who remain better connect with their teams.

Tom Corfman, a senior consultant with RCG, has middle-management experience—he was once an assistant managing editor. He directs RCG’s Build Better Writers program for managers.

The latest fad in corporate efficiency poses fresh challenges to internal communication managers who don’t find themselves victims of the push.

Middle managers — defined as non-executives who oversee employees — made up almost 32% of layoffs in December 2023, up from 20% in 2018-19, according to an analysis by Live Data Technologies, which tracks employment. Comms managers have felt the sting.

The trend poses three demanding tasks for internal communicators: First, with fewer people managers in the mix, they must intensify their management of the two-way flow of information with employees. Second, they need to persuade senior executives to devote more resources to strengthening the communication skills of the managers. Many of those managers weren’t properly prepared before the layoffs and now are asked to do more.

And third, in the meantime, comms teams must help the managers who remain to better connect with their teams.

Internal communicators can tackle all three challenges with these tips.

Layoff Listening
Staff cuts are tough on those who are let go and create fear for those who are not. It’s crucial for the internal comms team to monitor how workers and supervisors are feeling, experts say.

“Ask for feedback. Listen, listen, listen,” strategic communications expert Julie Baron has said. She’s an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group.

This requires both quantitative techniques, such as pulse surveys, and qualitative methods, such as developing a network of trusted sources throughout the organization.

“Two-way communication, which provides for information flowing to employees and for ideas and feedback flowing back to management, will make the layoff process smoother for you and your employees,” according to communication guidelines for layoffs by University of California, Berkeley. The guidelines offer tips during layoffs.

One reason for employee distress following layoffs is that leaders do not adequately explain the reasons behind the moves.

“Helping employees better understand the corporate strategy is a huge opportunity for communicators to demonstrate how they contribute to the bottom line,” Julie and I wrote in August. “But they need to do more than push out toolkits with key messages and FAQs.”

Training Managers
Layoffs are the result of past mistakes, even if the reductions are necessary for the company to survive or even flourish. Yet senior executives often don’t realize that big developments such as layoffs make many workers lose confidence in their leadership.

Only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization, according to a survey by Gallup conducted in August.

The road to rebuilding trust in leaders is built by managers.

“When employees don’t trust leadership, the breakdown is often at the manager level,” Gallup said last year. “To successfully navigate change, leaders need to make every effort to provide their managers with training and development.”

Internal communicators should make the case that communication skills training for managers saves money even at a time of cost-cutting.

Workers who received training in so-called soft skills including communication were 12% more productive than their peers who didn’t receive the training, according to research published in 2017.

Companies that communicate effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders from 2004 to 2009, according to an oft-cited study by insurance brokerage and consulting firm now called Willis Towers Watson.

“Effective communication impacts the bottom line,” according to the “The 2024 State of Business Communication,” by Grammarly and The Harris Poll, released in February.

Helping Now
A wave of manager layoffs likely means that those who remain have new, larger teams and different responsibilities. Just when an organization needs its managers the most, they are likely to be the most demoralized after seeing their colleagues exit the company.

Internal communicators, already stretched thin, must find ways and time to give these folks some tender, loving care.

“While trust is a two-way street, professional communicators must open up the thoroughfare,” we wrote in September 2023.

“Managers often lament that they receive lots of information from their bosses, but it isn’t clear what should be passed along to their teams and how urgent the information is,” DeNesha Tellis, an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting, has written.

One way to address the problem is a newsletter or intranet portal just for managers. (Both would be best.) Here’s how one might look:

  • Keep it short. The last thing managers want is another long, boring newsletter.
  • Make it lively. You must capture their interest.
  • Prioritize the info. For example, start the newsletter with the five things managers need to know right now.
  • Include a few reminders of future deadlines or events.
  • Make every edition fresh.

Determine the frequency based on the pace of your organization, how much news you have for managers and the goal of keeping the newsletter brief. Some organizations send the manager newsletter daily, some weekly.

“Nothing kills your company’s culture like layoffs,” according to Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines who died in 2019.

Managers are the specialists who can bring that culture off its deathbed.

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