Your Culture and RIFS, Returnships, and Resenteeism
I’ve heard a lot about three trending “Rs” recently. Likely you have, too. While economic instability and changing customer wants and needs are resulting in reductions in workforce (RIFs) in some sectors, other industries are clamoring for talent, turning to former employees or those with transferrable skills to fortify their teams. At the same time, some employees now believe themselves unhappily stuck in a role they would prefer to leave. As the abundant opportunities that prompted the past two year’s Great Resignation rapidly slowed, discontented employees stay put, grumbling all the way. These workers are part of an emerging trend of “resenteeism.” They do not quietly endure their workdays, but rather share their dissatisfaction widely, sucking colleagues into a vortex of negativity.
One thing all of these employee scenarios have in common is culture. Each is an opportunity to reinforce organizational values and fortify company culture, if handled in constructive ways.
I’ve shared guidance previously about how to lead through a RIF, noting that the cultural ripples caused by their wake are real and require attention. Not only do organizations need to treat separated employees with compassion and empathy, but the remaining employees need visibility into the RIF process for transparency and accountability of leadership. Remember, although your company may be reducing staff today, you will hire again. Employees have long memories. Social media shares of tone-deaf layoff emails and surprise technology lockouts have reverberated through the pages of Glassdoor and LinkedIn and will echo for years.
Here’s a recent example of a cultural disconnect in the context of a RIF. A leader whom I coach was involved with the planning of a necessary RIF in their organization. The executive driving the initiative wanted to conduct the separations via email to employee’s personal email addresses and cut access to their work email. The leader recognized it likely wasn’t the right thing to do. But he didn’t voice his opinion or resist the rollout plan. When the plan was presented to the next layer of management down, those who would be directly laying off their team members, there was immediate pushback. And then, we saw the cultural challenges clearly. The leader didn’t feel that he could be the lone voice of dissent within the organization, although he had the same misgivings the management level ultimately expressed. There was no room for diversity of thought. The expectation of complicit silence was taking up the space where dialogue should have been.
But luckily for him, he had a second chance to live his organizational values when the managers’ voices came through loud and clear to say, “This is not how our company should do things.”
This was a wake-up call for the leader. The slide into the abyss of a toxic culture is slow and imperceptible. But once you’re there, you know it. “I was going over the edge,” he said to me. “Because those managers operated with integrity and wanted their employees treated with empathy, they pulled me back up to where I should be.”
He returned to the leadership team and expressed his opinion, bolstered by the feedback from the manager group. Ultimately, the separations took place in person, with more emphasis on separating employees’ needs.
It’s important that when there is pushback to a process or procedure it is addressed and handled with consideration for and connection to organizational values. Those are the guardrails of each company. Silence chips away at a high-performing culture and erodes it, slowly but surely.
Although it may sound unbelievable, a RIF can be an opportunity for company leadership to demonstrate values clearly and support both impacted and remaining employees in ways that leave both feeling well-informed and respected.
Returnships, or Welcoming Outsiders
You’ve heard of an internship, but what about a returnship? In simplest terms, it’s a short-term engagement for professionals who want to re-enter the workforce after an extended period of time, like a COVID-necessitated absence from a full-time job. While these opportunities are cropping up in a variety of industries, I’m also seeing more organizations hiring team members who have significant experience and transferrable skills, but no industry expertise.
Culture is the leading indicator of organizational performance. It makes sense that your culture should inform the ways in which you welcome new or returning employees and ensure their success. It starts with onboarding and how new hires are supported through their ramp-up and acclimation.
I’ll share a recent example of an effective approach. A leader hired someone out of the industry for a very senior role. This new hire was selected because she had proven to be highly competent in former positions, able to support and nurture successful teams, and demonstrated high learning agility. The hiring leader knew that they would have to help this new hire to learn the industry rapidly, while also learning the company culture.
The leader introduced the new hire with great pride, transferring his own credibility to her, and setting the stage with others by enumerating her accomplishments and achievements, as well as the skills that would serve her well in this new role. No one wondered why she had been hired, because the leader presented the case for this “great fit,” a highly experienced and capable professional.
Next, he made himself available to this new hire regularly to answer any and all questions and demonstrated a personal investment in her success. He provided a full contextual view of issues, shared background on “watch outs” like political landmines to avoid, and made sure she understood the context of decisions she may consider making.
Lastly, the leader engaged a coach to support the new hire to have open honest direct conversations about challenges, difficulties, strengths, and opportunities.
One year later, this no-longer-new hire is doing extremely well in her role, handling difficult and complex issues with finesse. She has been supported in building productive relationships within the organization and has acclimated well to the culture. She is respected in all departments with which she works and has expertly leveraged her team members to meet business objectives and move them forward in their individual development goals. This is the very definition of an onboarding success story that clearly tells new hires about the culture and values at this company.
So, if your organization brings in new hires to “sink or swim,” does that align with your organizational values?
Imagine that a team member who many would label “toxic” is also extremely good at their work. You don’t want them to leave. You want them to turn their negative attitude into a force for good. Once again, we can look to culture and values to initiate a turnaround.
First, if you’re aware of an employee who is exhibiting the traits of “resenteeism,” it’s incumbent on a manager to address it sooner than later. This behavior typically gets worse over time and the longer it goes on the harder it is to correct. The manager will need behaviorally specific instances to share with their employee and give them the opportunity to respond and clarify their actions. Or, even better, provide detailed information about what the employee needs to do in order to turn things around. Organizations with strong core values can connect these situations to their values, making clear behaviors and actions that align and those that don’t. Perhaps the person needs more autonomy, more opportunities for collaboration with others in or outside of the department, or the opportunity to learn new and different things. Many corporate values can clearly link to many of these approaches to employee growth and higher satisfaction in their role.
From the employee side, individuals need to take responsibility for how they feel and discuss with their manager how the situation can be improved. Employees should be encouraged to vocalize their thoughts in productive, professional ways.
If their displeasure is based on the desire to move into higher roles and responsibilities, check in about where they want their career to go. Offer candid feedback about what they need to do to get there and encourage self-evaluation. Empower an associate who is resentful to reframe situations for themselves, voicing their own needs and giving the organization an opportunity to respond to those needs.
The employee also needs to be aware that if their behavior continues to negatively affect their work and that of their colleagues, they may find their career redirected. The path to determining whether an associate can stay and grow starts with leader-quality listening to identify issues, help redirect and guide growth, and determine the next steps in a transparent fashion. The ability to receive honest feedback, even when it’s negative, is helpful in creating a culture where all feel valued for their input and perspectives.
Organizational values serve as a clear guide through a variety of employee scenarios. Living core values daily and weaving them throughout even challenging employee experiences strengthens a high-performing culture.