Effective Employee Retention Strategies Amid Chaotic Work Environments

Employee retention strategies will help your team stick around through reorganizations, layoffs, and other corporate chaos.

Transitions, reorganizations, layoffs, mergers, acquisitions—they are all part of the business landscape. And while effective leaders will work to limit the number and frequency of these events, they are inevitable as organizations work to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. Effective employee retention strategies are critical to help your team come through the other side with confidence and enthusiasm for their work.

I Didn’t See This Coming

We were working with Melissa (not her real name), the Vice President of a rapidly growing national firm who called for help because three people had resigned in the past two weeks. And if you’d asked her two weeks before that, she wouldn’t have told you that any of them were flight risks.

As she explained the situation, Melissa’s department was in the middle of a major reorganization resulting from changes in the industry. The reorganization would shift an entire team’s work to an external partner (and several team members were moving over to the partner company.) Some roles would merge, and a few people would be reassigned or given exit packages.

Melissa told us, “I thought we were doing good with our communication, and that everyone understood what was happening. We’ve all been working so hard at our normal jobs plus preparing for the transition. Then these three resignations happened—and we can’t afford to lose anyone else. And they all have important work to do after the transition. I didn’t see this coming.”

Employee Retention Strategies During Reorganizations, Layoffs, and Corporate Chaos

Melissa and her team started the change process well. They had a clear communication plan. The company had retention bonuses in place to help affected team members stay through the finish line, and they clearly defined the process, roles, and timelines. They’d also involved the team in early decision-making.

These are all good practices and we recommend them as you navigate chaotic changes.

And—there are some additional employee retention strategies you can use to help your team move through these changes with confidence.

Invest in Clarity with Cascading Checks for Understanding

The antidote to uncertainty is clarity.

And as much communication as Melissa had done with her team, there was still more to do. We asked Melissa a question that you can ask yourself: “If we were to go ask your department about the plan, the timelines, and their role in the changes, would they give us the same answer you would?”

Melissa said, “I’m pretty confident, yes.”

“Would you bet 1000 dollars on each person affected giving the same answer?”

She thought for a moment and said, “Yes, for my directors. I wouldn’t take that bet for their team members.”

This is a great gut-check to see if your communication is as effective as you hope it would be.

Here, Melissa realized there was an opportunity to work with her directors on more clear and consistent communication. Then, both she and her directors could follow up by talking with frontline team members to check for understanding. To hear the team member describe what was happening in their own words.

Communication doesn’t mean you said it (or sent it). Clear communication means everyone has received and internalized critical messages.

Re-Recruit Your A-Players

There’s no question that even with clear communication, hectic reorganization, downsizing, and other corporate chaos makes everyone nervous, particularly when cuts include strong contributors who happen to be in the wrong seat at the wrong time.

Re-recruit your top talent by connecting and communicating how much you value them. Help them see their future opportunities and how you’ll support their growth and development.

Get Their Hands In the Future

One of the most powerful employee recruitment strategies when you face chaotic and messy change is to get people working on what’s next.

When you have team members who will stay on with the team after the change, get them working on that future. If their hands are deep into a project that builds the future, they can feel that future is real—and includes them. And that helps quell the uncertainty.

As we explored this strategy with Melissa, she recognized the opportunity: “I have many people who could absolutely be working on projects and plans that happen after the transition. We’ve been so focused on what’s happening now that I think I’ve made my team nearsighted.”

Maintain Relationships and Lines of Communication

In times of stressful change, it’s easy to lose track of your normal lines of communication.

In Melissa’s case, she noted that “Everyone’s been so busy. I thought we’d been transparent and clear, but we’re working so hard on our primary work, then to make the transition happen, that our one-on-ones and ongoing communication have taken a back seat.”

When one-on-ones feel the most difficult to maintain, that’s often when you need them the most. Those regular, individual check ins give you a chance to use all these employee retention strategies in a connected, relevant way.

Your Turn

You have to expect some degree of corporate chaos as your company navigates a rapidly changing world. All the planning and thoughtful strategizing you or your leaders do can’t eliminate uncertainty.

Help your team move through the change with confidence by investing in consistent communication to ensure clarity, thorough checks for understanding at every level, by getting everyone working on a horizon beyond the changes, and ensure you and your team maintain one-on-ones to stay connected.

Related: Navigating Ambiguous Expectations and Unclear Norms in the Workplace