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5 min read - May 30, 2023

Doubling down on engagement – amidst restructuring

As we are being bombarded with articles on the looming economic downturn, many organisations and leadership teams are battening down the hatches to ride out the storm.

Attentions are focused on maintaining financial sustainability, finding costs savings through right-sizing businesses and cutting discretionary spend.  

Based on past experience, those of us in the People and Capability space, know that some of the first areas for cutting discretionary spend will be targeting the budgets set aside for:

  • Growing employee skill sets (learning and development)
  • Managing employee experiences (organisational development)
  • Developing programmes that support the resilience of employees (wellbeing and change management support)

Whilst these may seem like “nice to have” employee offerings, they actually play a vital role in supporting a business to come through a recession in a healthy state.

Restructures are often focused on the immediate future, (what is wrong now and how do we fix it) and cost saving, with little time focused on identifying the long-term goals and needs, or the value to a business of having an engaged workforce.

The biggest failings that come out of restructure processes are:

  • Employees feeling unheard and not consulted
  • Belief the consultation process is an ingenuine box ticking exercise with pre-determined decisions and outcomes
  • Change is only focused on the high-level picture, and time has not been taken to identify what that change means from a detailed day-to-day level – i.e.  the impact on people, processes and workload

When these perceptions are present, you can expect that employees who remain after a restructure, may experience:

  • Disillusionment or mistrust of the organisational motives, behaviours, leadership etc.
  • Feelings of “survivors’ guilt” – individuals feeling a need to restore the balance of perceived inequity, but being unable to do so in a satisfactory way, leading to the perpetuation of the guilty feelings
  • Increased feelings of anxiety, instability or loss of control over their environment
  • Fear of being over-worked, or unjustly burdened

Any of these perceptions are likely to result in lower energy and therefore productivity, which exacerbates the pain points of declining engagement, such as a lack of appreciation, trust and communication.

People need to feel connected, supported and optimistic about their work to build engagement, which in turn increases energy and productivity and builds their resilience when faced with change.

In times of recession, successful businesses find mechanisms and resources to address organisational development, learning, wellbeing and change support, even if not via traditional roles, methods or budgetary spend. Some ways in which they do this are:


  • In times of uncertainty, they increase communication through various channels and methods
  • Create opportunities for team members to talk about fears or concerns without fear of repercussions
  • Acknowledge that managers and leaders don’t need to have all the answers to communicate with their team
  • Equip people leaders to be able to articulate the rationale and reasons for change
  • Equip people leaders to manage challenging conversations
  • Champion active listening across between leadership and employees


  • Share as many facts and information about what is going on in the business – outlining the challenges as well as celebrating the successes
  • Ensure employees know what decisions they have input into and which they don’t
  • Approach challenges as opportunities to do things differently or better and use their strengths to champion change
  • Rethink what success looks like during change – focus on what is critical and what can wait (and use this as a tool to manage reasonable workloads)

 Involvement and Ownership:

  • Give employees a voice at the table, engage them in planning processes and give them ownership in designing the way forward.
  • Get employees to share their concerns for productivity and improvement and work together to find solutions.
  • Identify what motivates and engages individual employees and how that can be addressed within the parameters available.


  • Seek and communicate an EAP offering – a place for employees to confidentially discuss anxieties, fears, difficulties adapting to change.
  • Accept that people will react/respond differently to situations and allow for this difference – equipping people leaders in how to respond to these differences.

 Leverage free Development Resources and Opportunities:

  • Look at free courses or development opportunities available online
  • Maximise learning and development experiences from involvement in shadowing, buddy system or mentoring/coaching at work
  • Host knowledge-sharing sessions, enabling people to debrief projects or pieces of work, so that they can share successes and challenges, allowing others to ask questions and grow from others’ experiences
  • Create opportunities for teamwork and collaboration

 Recognition and Appreciation:

  • Be aware that not everyone will feel or act the same way to the situation; and build an acceptance of how others may want to be receive recognition
  • Use non-monetary forms of appreciation, such as thank you notes, public and private acknowledgement of work which is done well or has a positive impact on culture
  • Celebrate all successes even during the challenging times

Work-life balance:

  • Create a culture that doesn’t expect 24/7 work focus; and instead encourages active rest e.g. disconnecting from emails, policies for email use and/or working hours etc.
  • Brainstorm on flexible ways of working; and have choices available for employees

What may start as “short term pain for long term gain” may end up being long term pain for declining gain, if cost cuts damage an employee’s willingness to stay or contribute fully. Get creative, and find ways to offer organisational development, learning, wellbeing and change support. Long term sustainability or competitiveness of an organisation may depend on it.

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