Canadian Underwriter

Layoff anxiety: Strategies to ease remote workers’ concerns 

March 27, 2023   by Jason Contant

Worried remote worker

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With an economic downturn still a distinct possibility later this year, Canadian P&C industry professionals will likely have understandable concerns about layoffs. 

But those who go into the office at least some of the time are less likely to say uncertainty has impacted their productivity over the past six months compared to remote employees, found a recent study from California-based software company Humu.   

The study and behavioural data analysis from more than 80,000 workers found 89% of human resources leaders said their teams have voiced concerns about job security, leadership changes or reorganizations. “But there were notable differences between the responses of in-person and remote team members,” wrote Liz Fosslien and Sara Gottlieb-Cohen in a recent Harvard Business Review recent blog, Research: Remote Workers Are More Anxious About Layoffs. 

Remote employees were 32% more likely to feel anxious in the wake of news about layoffs and were far more concerned about getting a new manager during a reorganization, wrote Fosslien, Humu’s head of content and communications and Gottlieb-Cohen, Humu’s senior data scientist. And 67% said this anxiety had an impact on their productivity. 

By contrast, people who went into the office at least some of the time — whether that be hybrid or fully in-person — were 24% less likely to say that uncertainty has impacted their productivity over the past six months.  

Cropped shot of a diverse group of businesspeople

“Anxiety also seems to be driving what employees want most: Half of workers prioritized job stability over both a higher salary and career growth,” the authors said. “But the answer is not to force everyone back into the office. Our research shows that people really want remote opportunities: 50% of employees say that remote work is a top priority for them in their next role, while only 4% would seek out fully in-person work.” 

The findings are in line with those of global staffing firm Robert Half, which found 46% of more than 1,100 employees surveyed were worried about losing the ability to work where and when they want in 2023.  

A Canadian representative of Robert Half told Canadian Underwriter retention is the name of the game. “This is a good reminder that organizations need to make sure they’re putting their arms around their top performers and making sure they don’t lose them,” Cal Jungwirth, director of permanent placement services for finance and accounting at Robert Half, told CU in a recent interview. 

The HBR blog authors offer five strategies for managers to help reduce remote workers’ anxiety and help them feel more connected to the organization and colleagues.  

Put chit-chat on the agenda 

Because remote workers don’t have access to “casual collisions” of running into colleagues in the office, time should be dedicated to a shared ritual. For example, the remote team at Humu kicks off team meetings by asking something light-hearted and easy to answer and rotates who comes up with the question. This could be something as simple as bonding over which food is underrated, or “you have five seconds to grab an object. Then share with the group what it is and why it’s in your home.”  

Create cross-functional connections 

Try to create opportunities for remote employees to work on cross-functional projects or connect team members to people from another department for informal chats, advised Fosslien and Gottlieb-Cohen. Or host colleagues from other departments at the team meeting to talk about their work, how your teams can partner, and what they’re excited to learn from your reports. 

Make it a priority to take notes during important meetings and share them, either in a folder or summarized in a public channel. “Among hybrid and virtual teams, careful documentation is especially important in boosting performance and trust.” 

Make a list and check it twice 

Write down every single person on your team (in-person and fully remote). Carefully review the list and consider each individual’s strengths and areas where they might need or want development. Then make a more informed, intentional decision about who may be suited for a work opportunity. 

Think carefully about how you use 1:1 time 

Managers should ask check-in questions, such as “How can I best support you?” or “Is anything unclear or blocking your work?” 

“If you focus your 1:1s on status updates, you miss out on a valuable opportunity to better understand and support your people,” the authors write. “Worse, you inadvertently send the message that you only care about pressing tasks and to-do’s, which can leave your team feeling expendable and stressed. Think about whether there are alternative channels (think email or Slack threads) in which you can get status updates.” 

Reflect on how you show up as a manager 

As a manager ask yourself: 

  • Are members of my team asking questions or surfacing issues? 
  • When I communicate a decision, do I also share why and how it was made? 
  • Have I ever opened up about what I’m feeling to a direct report? 

If you’re only getting positive feedback, especially when things are uncertain and employees are undoubtedly feeling anxious, you should be concerned, the blog said. Set the tone for conversations by sharing what you’re experiencing. 


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