February – The Month of Engagement

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Now before you get excited and congratulatory, I am not talking about wedding nuptials.  I’m talking about Employee Engagement.  In my last article, The Dreaded Termination Conversation, I described December and January as the typical months when company closures and layoffs take place[1].  So, what better way to gear up February than to talk about its purpose – to engage employees and/or Survivors.


Survivors are those who remain within your organization following downsizing, layoffs, or winter termination.  Don’t be fooled, these individuals are negatively impacted when they learn a coworker, friend or teammate has been terminated.  Even though a Survivor remains employed, he or she is often sad, scared and worried their own job is next in the line of fire[2].  For this reason, Employers must recognize the need to engage these employees immediately*.

*Ideally Employers would focus on Survivor Engagement before, during and after terminations occur; however, we do not live in a perfect world.  Also, “before and during” usually take a back seat since Employers are usually worried about ‘how’ to break the news to employees being terminated.

The Emotional State of Survivors

I can no longer count the number of Employees who have disclosed to me that they feel disengaged and unmotivated in the workplace.  In particular, I have heard Survivors describe their dismay in at least one of the following ways:

  1. Mistrust of management
  2. Low morale or productivity
  3. Job insecurity or high stress
  4. Increased resistance to change
  5. Anger, to the point of acts of sabotage

Sound familiar?  If so, let’s call on February to help resolve these concerns and develop re-engagement!

Embracing February’s Approach to Engagement

There are 4 distinct initiatives I would consider “Go To”s when it comes to successfully counteracting the negative emotional states of Survivors (above):

1.       Inspire trust through leadership

Developing an internal mentorship program is a great way to build trusting relationships and involve employees in professional development and realistic succession planning.  You can also create Work Teams for the purpose of achieving specific organizational goals (ex. Reducing absenteeism by 20%).

2.       Boost morale through open communication

Before you can manage negative attitudes in the workplace, you must identify specific negative behaviours (usually observed over time) that are exhibited by Employees.  My first article – Managing Negative Attitudes in the Workplace[3] – provides further advice on this topic.

3.       Practice honesty and respect

Employees like information.  At least, that’s what Employees tell me.  Of course, they don’t need to know “everything”; however, they surely expect you to be honest with them in tough times.  Remember: Employees are physical resources.  They have useful knowledge and expertise that can be used when making key decisions – especially those which may affect the wellbeing of your organization.  More importantly, “don’t offer false guarantees or try to sugar-coat the current reality”[4].

4.       Demonstrate that you value Survivors

Susan M. Heathfield hits it right on the nose: “If you are a manager, it is most important to reassure the people who report to you of their value to you and the organization.  You need to talk with each of them individually to let them know why and how they are valued; tell them what you feel they contribute to your effective, continuously improving work environment”[5].  As far as I know, there is no better way to demonstrate that you value Survivors than to tell them directly.

Don’t stop at just one initiative – breathe life and energy back into your staff by challenging yourself to accomplish them ALL! After all, you don’t want to lose more than you (may) already have.

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About Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) with a genuine concern for the ‘employee experience’. Before obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Human Resources Management from Kwantlen University, Sandy graduated from BCIT with a Diploma in Financial Management. She also pursued a Diploma in Business Administration from Douglas College before falling in love with Human Resources. Early in her career, Sandy worked as a(n) Receptionist, A/R Clerk, Office Manager and Accountant. Now, with 6 years of experience in the construction and manufacturing industry, Sandy is excited to pursue new challenges and industries while working towards future goals including her aspirations of being a highly regarded mentor for other HR Professionals and an inspiration to friends, colleagues and strangers.

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