Downsizing companies must invest in developing the remaining employees

Recently I wrote how we’re in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will see automation, artificial intelligence, and robots make 5 million jobs obsolete globally by 2020. Last week Telstra CEO Any Penn announced that 1,400 jobs (approximately 4.5 % of the workforce) will be cut where “technology innovation and digital disruption are combined with the increased competitive pressures and the accelerated rollout of the NBN." These types of challenges aren’t isolated to a specific company or industry so we need to brace ourselves that job losses will happen across most sectors with some regularity.

To remain competitive businesses are compelled to exploit whatever cost savings and technology advancements they can. Those made redundant are faced with uncertain futures. However, there’s also challenges for the “lucky ones” who get to keep their jobs because downsizing typically leaves the same amount of work to be done with fewer people.

If this aspect isn’t managed correctly in the “leaner organisation” then there can be a loss in employee engagement and loyalty with employees struggling to cope with the increased workloads, added stress and limited or no time to learn new skills.

When times are tough businesses tend to have a mindset of the team can deliver more. “Consolidation is about creating new efficiencies and reducing costs and all of us working harder to achieve the targets" - Yellow Brick Road founder and executive chairman Mark Bouris. The work harder sentiment isn’t exclusive to Yellow Brick Road though. Sure, consolidation provides opportunities for process efficiency and a percentage of the workforce are underutilised and have the capacity to deliver more. However, there’s also a significant percentage of workers who are already working hard. Is it fair or even possible for them to work harder?

Instead of just expecting employees to work harder, organisations must invest in developing the capabilities for employees to work more effectively. It’s incorrect to assume they already are or that they will cope with the added expectations. We need to be mindful the World Health Organisation predicts depression will be the second-leading cause of disability by 2020.

Maintaining a reasonable balance between work and life is the very fabric of the Australian culture. For instance, death from overwork (Karoshi) is such a dire situation in Japan that the government plans to introduce legislation to limit overtime to no more than 100 hours a month.

Work as we know it is changing. To leverage change positively, workers need to develop a new rhythm that maximises efficiencies while focussing their energies and capabilities on the activities that make a difference. Some workers will be able to naturally do this themselves, while others will need assistance. Targeted coaching is a great way to help workers embrace and thrive in the new working environment.

When downsizing don’t forget it’s critical to support people on how to be more productive.