4 strategies to retain the best after a reduction in the workforce


As unpleasant as layoffs or downsizing (RIF) can be for everyone involved, they are sometimes necessary for the future health and growth of a company.

With the current economic climate—inflation, banking crisis, global conflicts, supply chain issues, you name it—many companies around the world have had to make that difficult decision. According to a survey conducted by SoftBank Vision Fund62% of CHROs report that they have reduced their workforce in the past year.

During an RIF, the logistics and execution of layoffs, and all the difficult conversations that go along with them, tend (understandably) to dominate the focus of HR teams.

But what happens next? What about the remaining employees?

Don’t assume top performers are okay after a RIF

Employees’ belief in their company’s mission and commitment to the company’s culture may be affected after an RIF. Especially high performers, who may feel that the organization they work so hard for has let them down or is not as stable as they once thought.

Without a proactive and strategic effort, a RIF can cause serious unintended consequences, such as brain drain (also known as unfortunate turnover). The loss of team members can be a mental and emotional challenge for employees. And on top of that, they may also be dealing with changes in their role, responsibilities, or team dynamics.

High performers need to see clearly what their future with the company could look like and how they can continue to make an impact well into the future. Retaining good employees in tough times and limiting the damage of an RIF requires HR leaders to think outside the box and take a close look at both opportunities and threats.

4 Strategies for Post-RIF Retention

To help you refocus your efforts and avoid brain drain during a disruptive event, we outline some strategies and tactics for retaining key employees in times of change. Read on for four effective employee retention strategies to plug unwanted brain drain.

1. Review the clarity of the role of employees

Usually there is a shuffling of the deck that occurs after a RIF. Teams and reporting structures may change, responsibilities are reallocated, and there may even be more work with fewer people to handle it.

Your remaining employees need to be clear about how their priorities and goals will change because of those changes. Focusing on role clarity will be essential as you embark on the “new normal” of your organization.

As Jennie Yang, 15Five’s Vice President of People, put it:

“Role clarity is a major driver of employee engagement, but it is often overlooked or underestimated. When employees are clear about their role, they understand specifically what is expected of them in their job. They know what responsibilities and results they are supposed to achieve, their specific goals, how their work impacts the larger goals of the business, and how their performance will be evaluated and measured. When this clarity is missing [especially after a RIF]It can significantly impact your team’s engagement and productivity.”

Addressing role clarity is crucial to reducing disconnection and burnout. For example, if employees are working from home, they may want to discuss current work-life balance or get more support from their manager during and after the RIF. Reviewing role expectations can remove some of the disconnect they may feel and help remote teams stay connected.

Reassessing an employee’s role and making them part of the conversation can empower them to define what their job is like today and what they would like it to be like in the future.

2. Reassess individual and team goals

After an RIF, reorganization, merger, or other major event, many organizations make the mistake of not updating their goals to reflect the new state of the business. This can be a big problem, especially in cases where employees are already working at full capacity and the company decides to dump even more on its plates.

After a RIF, leaders and managers must reassess organizational, team, and individual goals and look at the company’s long-term priorities. Goals should be thoroughly reviewed and updated to reflect new objectives.

By resetting OKRs (or whatever type of goal-setting method you use), executives can view company-wide goals to make sure they’re still relevant, managers and direct reports can assess whether they have the skills and ability to take on new responsibilities, and HR can see what training or coaching may be needed to improve employee performance.

3. Conduct internship interviews with the remaining employees.

You may already be doing exit interviews, which can be valuable in learning what makes an employee leave. But what makes them want to stay? That’s something you want to know before it’s too late.

Remaining interviews provide an opportunity to ask current employees how satisfied they are with their jobs, what is going well in their work environment, and what challenges are affecting their experience as an employee.

In a stay-at-home interview, employees can voice their grievances before reaching the end of their ropes. The insights gained can help individual HR leaders and managers take steps to stay ahead of woeful turnover.

here are some questions SHRM recommends when conducting a stay interview:

  • What do you expect every day when you go to work?
  • What are you learning here and what do you want to learn?
  • Why do you stay here?
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving us and what motivated you?
  • What can I do to make your job better for you?

Collecting and acting on employee feedback is key to avoiding turnover, especially after major business upheaval. Here are some more ways to collect feedback:

4. Make sure career path conversations take place between managers and employees

Providing career development opportunities and helping employees grow and thrive in their current roles is essential to retention after an RIF. That said, you also need to support people’s long-term career goals, even if it means they might eventually outgrow your position or your company.

Unfortunately, our recent study of 1,000 managers and 1,000 employees in the US showed that nearly half (48%) of employees said they had not yet had a single conversation with their manager about their career vision. (You can read more about our findings in the 2023 Manager Effectiveness Report.)

After a layoff or RIF, the remaining employees need to see that the organization still has growth opportunities for them. And during times of change, leaders can identify new roles and responsibilities that align with changing business priorities, which can lead to exciting new opportunities for top performers.

Here are some things managers need to talk about in career conversations:

  • The employee’s short and long-term career vision.
  • What would you like to do more (or less) of
  • What do you think are your greatest strengths?
  • What could your ideal work day look like?
  • How their values ​​align with what they are doing (or want to do)
  • What training or coaching do they need to achieve their career goals?

Leading a human resources or people operations team through an RIF is difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Join the 15Five HR Superstars community and get support from amazing peers who have been through the same things you have. You’ll also get access to exclusive content and valuable (and fun!) events.

You may also like...