​​How to Prevent Employee Turnover After Layoffs: 4 Effective Strategies

An illustration of six employees on a conveyor belt exiting an office representing employee turnover after a layoff.

Organizations sometimes face the challenging situation of having to lay off employees due to financial constraints, restructuring, or downsizing. While layoffs are often unavoidable, they can have a significant impact on the remaining employees as they face uncertainty, loss, and increased workloads. This can cause further employee turnover. However, employers can take proactive measures to prevent employee turnover and mitigate the negative effects of a layoff.

In this blog post, we will explore:

  • What is employee turnover?
  • How employee turnover can negatively impact a workplace
  • How turnover contagion happens
  • Four effective strategies to prevent turnover contagion after layoffs

What Is Employee Turnover?

Employee turnover refers to the process of employees leaving their jobs. There are two types of employee turnover: voluntary and involuntary. 

Voluntary turnover

Voluntary employee turnover refers to the process of employees leaving a job of their own free will. This type of turnover can occur for a variety of reasons, including lack of career growth opportunities, personal reasons, dissatisfaction with the job or the company, or a desire to pursue a different career path. Some voluntary turnover is expected in any business, but when it happens in large numbers or often, it’s worth investigating what may be causing employees to leave. It can also become prevalent following a layoff, with the spread of low morale and fear among remaining workers. This increased attrition is called “turnover contagion.” 

Involuntary turnover

Involuntary employee turnover refers to the process of the removal of employees by a company. Situations where a company asks employees to leave, such as layoffs and termination with cause, are examples of involuntary turnover. 

An employee leaves the office with a box of his belongings.How Employee Turnover Can Negatively Impact a Workplace

Voluntary turnover can have both positive and negative effects on an organization. On the one hand, it can lead to fresh perspectives and new talent coming into the company. On the other hand, it can result in the loss of valuable knowledge and experience, as well as increased costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees.

Involuntary turnover such as a layoff also can result in the loss of knowledge, but can have more widespread effects on the workforce due to the stress it can impose on employees when they witness their colleagues losing their jobs. Many employees choose to leave following a layoff due to fear over their own job security or the general health of the company. And so layoffs can result in the loss of more employees than originally intended, multiplying the negative impact on those remaining.

Do Layoffs Increase Turnover?

Negative reverberations can be felt at every level of an organization following a layoff. It’s at these moments that employees need the support of their managers, extra time to process the loss of their colleagues, and assurance that their jobs are secure. Yet managers may be experiencing the very same concerns, along with the pressure to produce results with a decreased workforce. 

Employees may also take layoffs as a sign that company performance may be a longer-term concern. They may worry that there will be more waves of layoffs to come and want to find security in a new position at a different company. When morale is low and employees are short on time, patience, and optimism, engagement and loyalty can nosedive, and one employee after another may exit. This is how turnover contagion happens.

But this phenomenon is preventable when you have a plan to address these inevitable concerns.

4 Effective Strategies to Prevent Turnover Contagion After Layoffs

1. Transparent and timely communication

Layoffs can create anxiety and uncertainty among remaining employees, and rumors and speculations can quickly spread, leading to a toxic work environment. To prevent this, organizations should provide clear and honest communication about the reasons for the layoffs, the impact on the organization, and future plans. Employers should allow their workforce to ask questions in an open environment that ensures every team member hears the same information. It is essential to communicate in a timely manner, both before and after the layoff, to address questions and concerns and provide regular updates. By being transparent and keeping the lines of communication open, organizations can build trust, reduce anxiety, and increase retention.

2. Provide support and resources

Employees who witness their colleagues being laid off may experience survivor guilt, increased workload, and job insecurity—either real or imagined. As a result, they may begin looking for new employment elsewhere. To prevent this, employers should provide support and resources to the remaining employees, such as counseling services, regular check-ins with managers, training programs, career coaching, and workshops on resilience and stress management. Organizations should also consider offering flexible work arrangements and workload adjustments to help these employees manage the changes caused by the layoffs. Lastly, employees can be rewarded in recognition for their extra efforts following a layoff. By acknowledging what employees are experiencing, employers can help employees feel valued, motivated, and committed to the organization.

An employee speaks with a counselor at work following layoffs.3. Career development and growth opportunities

Employees may be more likely to leave the organization after a layoff if they feel that they no longer have career growth prospects with the company. It can be particularly helpful during these times for employers to focus on providing career development opportunities to the remaining employees to prevent turnover contagion. This can include offering career coaching, training programs, mentoring, job rotation, and cross-functional assignments. Employers can also consider implementing personalized career development programs for each employee, which identify their career goals, resources to meet those goals (such as training and coaching), and potential career paths within the company. By investing in employees’ professional growth and providing them with a clear career path, organizations can ease their worry, increase their job satisfaction and commitment, and reduce the likelihood of them leaving.

4. Survey employees

Determining your employees’ specific concerns—beyond the obvious ones about job security and the future of the company—can help you prioritize strategies for moving forward after a layoff. Some may be worried that they won’t have the skills to perform new duties that have been foisted on them, while others may be concerned that they won’t have the chance to advance. Layoffs often result in restructuring departments, and some workers may feel additional loss as they are moved away from those they previously worked with closely. 

While you may have a good guess at why employees are leaving, you won’t know the detailed reasons that may cause employees to leave unless you ask them. Surveys are not only an effective way to glean this information—they also demonstrate that you are interested in what your employees think. Explain to your workforce how the surveys will be used, emphasize that they will be anonymous, and put forth a plan to act on the results. Then, keep your organization updated as changes and/or improvements are made.

Voluntary Employee Turnover Is Preventable

Layoffs can have a significant impact on remaining employees, and organizations need to take proactive measures to prevent them from leaving. By implementing strategies such as transparent and timely communication, providing support and resources, and offering career development and growth opportunities, and surveying workers, organizations can prevent employee turnover and create a supportive environment for their employees. By prioritizing employee well-being and engagement, organizations can navigate the challenges of layoffs successfully and ensure the long-term success and sustainability of their workforce.

INTOO helps employers of all sizes with cost-effective solutions for every stage of the employee lifecycle, including candidate experience, career development, and outplacement services. Contact us to learn how we can make a difference for you and your employees.

Robyn Kern

Robyn Kern is a seasoned business writer who has written in the HR, education, technology, and nonprofit spaces. She writes about topics including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more, with the goal of surfacing workforce trends and educating the HR community on these key topics. Her work has been featured on hrforhr.org and trainingindustry.com.

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