February 08, 2023
It was only 90 days ago that we found out Twitter was laying off roughly half of its workforce, and the layoff stories haven’t stopped since then. Meta, Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft of course make headlines, and we all know of smaller scale (but still painful) layoffs within the contact center industry– we’ve got the posts on our LinkedIn timelines to prove it. A friend of mine directed me to Layoffstracker.com but a quick online search reveals many more layoff tracking sites, all showing the grim timeline. And even though I try to avoid doomscrolling in general, it sometimes seems like that’s the only kind of scrolling there is.
Every day my news feed brings another clickbait anecdote about how employees laid off from Google feel particularly poorly treated, either because of the way their termination was handled, or because they feel like they company saw them as “disposable”, or because of the perceived randomness of who got picked for a pink slip. The stories range from a new mother who received her layoff email hours after giving birth, to married couples who went from two incomes to none, to employees with 20 years of service getting a mass email instead of a call. I don’t mean to single out Google, but I do think their status as a household word has made them a particular focus in the media. Meanwhile, the employees who still have jobs are confused and upset, some suffering from survivor’s guilt.
On top of all that, some companies are announcing plans to pull remaining employees back into the office whether they like it or not. So many of us have come to value the flexibility that a work from home situation has afforded us. And while some employees say they’re fine with a hybrid home/office scenario, there’s something about the stories of large companies mandating that move that rubs a lot of employees the wrong way. A study by Monster shows that two-thirds of workers would quit if forced to return to the office! Hearing stories about large, well-known companies announcing the end or partial reduction of Work from Home is just another factor that is likely weighing on the minds of your team.
That level of stress isn’t just the employees’ problem though; the whole organization has a stake. Research confirms something that we see in colleagues and also feel in ourselves on a personal level: stress has an impact on productivity. Stressed employees are more likely to be absent, and more likely to exhibit presenteeism (which means that they sign in for work, but are less productive because of physical illness or mental stressors). You don’t need a study to tell you that stressed employees find it more difficult to focus on creating schedules, interacting positively with their co-workers, or delivering the kind of “delight” level experience that customers demand today.
Employee wellbeing has been a trending topic that is growing out of the overall interest in Employee Experience (EX). Most of us are on board with the idea that EX is important, not just because we care about our colleagues as fellow human beings. Our companies have a real material stake in EX because it impacts Customer Experience (CX), and ultimately the bottom line. So our companies have to have a real interest in employee mental wellbeing.
Maybe your company isn’t planning layoffs and you’re happy allowing employees to work from home. But is that something your teams know? Is it something they have a gut feeling to be true? The current economic climate, the layoff news, the ratio of tough calls to easy ones– it all makes now a great time to check in with your team.
One thing we’ve always said about the contact center is that you can always expect the unexpected. We’re already facing a staffing crisis, doing our best with the employees we’ve got. And then there are the unpredicted contact volume spikes, the unplanned absences, the many customer service fires that break out during the day. In spite of all this, meetings have to be treated as critical priorities. Making time to talk to your team as a group and as individuals sends a clear message that they matter. Feeling like easily-replaceable cogs in an uncaring machine is a common complaint in the tech company layoffs, and we don’t want that contagious feeling spreading to our teams.
So your company may not even be considering layoffs or cutting off Work from Home. Even if that’s true, you can’t make promises that it would never happen, especially in this economic climate. Focus on what you can communicate with honesty. If upper management has given out any messages on this topic, share what you can. Thinking back to my time as a frontline agent, I might have taken messages from upper management with a grain of salt, but I still appreciated some transparency from my team leaders, even if they couldn’t make promises.
Most of us have one-on-ones that are scheduled as frequently as we can manage given the massive workload we have to deal with. Talking to our team members about goals, stats, and key performance indicators is certainly important, that’s a given. But can you make time in those meetings to mention the layoff elephant in the room, and ask just how your team member is feeling? This kind of communication can build a sense of trust, openness to collaboration, and a sense of being valued. Don’t underestimate the power of making a team member feel seen.
It’s not a given that any of us can easily focus in a meeting, especially in a multitasking world. But making the time with a team member count is crucial. Actively listen to you what your team member is saying, don’t spend that time formulating a response. Make them feel safe to be as honest as they can, and be attentive to non-verbal cues that might tell a story of their own. This is especially important when bringing up a topic like the layoff trend. Active listening can go a long way to building trust and a feeling of partnership between you and your team.
Team members are a rich source of insight into the employee experience. If your team is telling you about layoff fears or any other stressor making it difficult to deliver great customer experience, listen and follow up. If there are causes of stress that your company can do something about, make sure that message is communicated to the right people. Then make sure to let your team know that they have been heard and their concerns have been made known to the decision makers.
With more concern shown to Employee Engagement, we’ve seen many VoE solutions hit the market. Some of them measure employee sentiment by doing regular automated “How are you feeling” surveys that can run far more often than any of us could possibly schedule face to face meetings. These scores and survey results can become another valuable data point that gives insight into Employee Experience that is trackable in our performance dashboards. And it gives the team members another channel to tell us how they feel.
Nature hates a void, and that goes double for an informational void. Something will fill the empty space left by that lack of information, and because of human nature, it’s usually our worst assumptions. Don’t let the rumor mill interfere with the hard work you’ve invested into building your contact center operation. Now is a great time to check in with your team to let them know you feel some of same stresses they do, you’re listening, and you’ll be as transparent as you can be in these challenging times.