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Competencies Development Career Pathing Competency-based Management

3 Things HR Can Do to Mitigate the Impact of Layoffs

By HRSG Team on August, 23 2022

Article table of contents (jump to section):

  1. The pendulum swings
  2. Use competencies
  3. Invest in development
  4. Provide career pathing
  5. From downswing to upswing

Only a short time ago, the Great Resignation was all talent managers could talk about. Suddenly, we are facing the Great Apprehension—a period marked by layoffs and fears of a recession. This blog post looks at how HR can pivot to address the new reality.


The pendulum swings

After an exhilarating but all-too-short period of rapid economic expansion, HR leaders are now watching the talent they worked so hard to find disappear in a wave of layoffs. And leading indicators such as low consumer optimism and high interest rates suggest that we may not see the workforce expand for some time.

Layoffs are hardest for those who lose their jobs and their purpose and livelihoods along with them. But they are tough for HR professionals, too. While the workforce may shrink, the organizational goals and expectations do not, which means HR needs to find ways of redistributing, upskilling, reskilling, and optimizing the organization's talent quickly and efficiently.

The challenge is not an easy one, but these three HR tools can help to minimize the effect that layoffs have on the organization's morale, performance, and culture.


Use competencies

Competencies are now used by nearly three-quarters of organizations (73%) to drive talent management processes, and those competencies can help you make better choices about where to re-allocate your talent.

Competencies define the abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, and traits needed for successful job performance. HR professionals are fans of competencies because they define the behaviors required to achieve success in ways that are detailed, objective, and observable.

But competencies are also useful because they break each job down into behavioral indicators. These indicators act like pieces of Lego. Just as the same piece of Lego can be used to build different structures, the same competency can be used as a component in different jobs, even jobs in different departments or business units.

For example, a marketing role may have competencies in common with a recruitment role, or the competencies for a finance role may overlap with those required for a business analyst role. With the ability to break roles into their component parts and compare these parts across the organization, HR teams gain broader visibility into the organization's talent requirements, which in turn gives them more options for reallocating talent to fill the gaps left by layoffs. Being able to identify and redeploy talent cross-functionally is invaluable when you need to fill the talent gaps created when the workforce contracts.


Invest in development

"Investing" in anything after a layoff may seem counterintuitive. It may even seem impossible. But development is an area that HR should make every effort to protect and nurture after layoffs.

The reality is that with fewer people, those that remain will need to add new responsibilities or projects to their existing workload. They will need to work harder and step up to challenges they didn't ask for and may not be ready for. And they will most likely be asked to do it without a raise or even a title bump. At the very least, the organization needs to show them support by making sure they get the development opportunities that help them prepare and feel more confident and supported.

At a time when morale is at an all-time low, providing employees with development opportunities, including on-the-job training, courses, and mentoring, can go a long way toward helping the organization recover as well as strengthening organizational culture and engagement.

Robust development programs are a tangible way for the organization to show that it recognizes the effort and sacrifice employees are making and is ready to support them. Development is also one of the most effective ways to retain employees—even at a time when perks and raises are off the table. According to research from IBM, employees now prioritize career advancement ahead of compensation.


Provide career pathing

Development is an essential part of the post-layoff recovery process. But when it is connected to a career pathing program, it becomes an even more powerful way to engage and empower employees.

Career pathing helps employees explore and visualize multiple career trajectories based on their knowledge, skills, abilities, interests, and career goals as well as the organization’s talent needs. A career pathing program goes beyond traditional promotional pathways by uncovering pathways that ignore hierarchies, cross departments and business lines, and even allow employees to look at opportunities to downshift to less high-profile roles when they need to recalibrate their work-life balance.

After a workplace contraction, career pathing can help people see their new responsibilities in a positive light. Taking on additional work may be challenging in the short term, but when employees can visualize how these new skills and experiences—and the competencies they acquire in the process—will bring them closer to their career goals, it can put a positive spin on a workplace necessity.

It can also help HR professionals make more aligned, educated, strategic decisions around how to allocate the organization's talent based not only on what they can do, but also what they want to do and where they want to go in their career.


From downswing to upswing

Focusing on competency-based development and career pathing can help you navigate a downturn, but they can also help you bounce back once the economy recovers and your company and its workforce needs to grow once again. Organizations that support and guide their employees as they stretch themselves to cover the skill gaps left by their departing colleagues will benefit from a stronger culture, higher retention and engagement, and a better reputation among job seekers, all of which will help them attract and acquire the talent they need.

Learn more about competency-based career pathing. Download "The 2022 Definitive Guide to Career Pathing," a new eBook from HRSG’s expert consultants.