Tips for Supervisors and Managers

How to Understand and Help Employees Cope with Budget and Staff Reductions

Reducing staff can be one of the most difficult challenges that managers face. Employees may experience issues of grief, loss, and uncertainty during the change process. It is crucial to treat all employees with respect and compassion. The following describes aspects of this process:

Denial. Initially, people may have a need to deny that something is changing, is lost, or is uncertain. This may include:

  • Denying the meaning of the facts involved
  • Numbing one's feelings or being "in shock"
  • Some may detach or distance themselves, while others may throw themselves into work or other projects

Give the employee time and space to move through denial.

Grief and Loss. Some employees cope with feelings of denial, sadness, irritability, and depression through isolation. They may believe they are alone or that there is no place for such feelings in the work setting. As isolation occurs, there is a breakdown in the connection among coworkers, which can increase interpersonal conflict and communication problems. Opportunities to understand and discuss these feelings allow employees to work through their experiences. It's not talking about loss but pretending it doesn't exist that stirs up trouble.

Loss of control. Many employees will experience change or loss as a threat to one's sense of control. Opportunities for input or planning and defining work assignments with goals and objectives can help to create some control over the uncertainty. Maintain the inner stance that you are acting, as best you can, in the long-term interests of the university.

Other reactions. Many other feelings and behaviors may result from change, including anger, apathy, lethargy, and physical symptoms. People experience varied reactions depending on life experiences and circumstances. These reactions are normal and part of the process. If these reactions worsen or do not appear to resolve, refer the employee to the Faculty/Staff Assistance Program.

Here are some things supervisors and managers can do to help:

Seek consultation and provide support. Seek consultation regarding employees of concern by contacting your HR department and the Faculty/Staff Assistance Program. Offer resources for career transition and future employment opportunities.

Offer clear communication. Communicate early and often. Be open and honest. Keep all employees informed of changes to reduce rumors, gossip, etc. Be familiar with how decisions were made to keep or cut programs or personnel.

Attend to morale. Make people feel important by expressing appreciation and recognizing accomplishments.

Maintain an open door policy. This encourages employees to discuss their concerns and feelings. Acknowledge the difficulty of these times and understand that problems and conflict will occur. This fosters permission for employees to address their own experience.

Take care of yourself. Practice stress management by recognizing your feelings and needs and making yourself a priority. Attend to self-care issues so that you can offer the best of yourself. Remember, you can't control all outcomes; know your limits.

Promote support systems. Support systems can break down isolation and promote healthy work relationships. Support systems can also facilitate problem solving and provide community. Sometimes group experiences can decrease the risk of personalizing the losses associated with budget and staff reductions.

Contact the Faculty/Staff Assistance Services to schedule a supervisory consultation regarding managing the emotional impact of change or to discuss referring an employee for counseling.

University of Illinois
Faculty/Staff Assistance Services
1011 W. University Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61801
Phone: (217) 244-5312