When a team member tells you he is afraid of being let go

This happened to me before our current pandemic hit in the US. A new team member expressed how afraid he was of being let go by the company. He thought because he was not aligned to a high-profile project, he would be seen as “non-essential”, a phrase we are becoming all too familiar with lately.

So, what do you do to reassure someone they will not be let go? Perhaps right now, very few managers can give this reassurance but there are some things a manager can do to help in this situation.

  1. Listen – Sounds trite but as my brother always says: “Oftentimes, the thing is not the thing.” There is something else driving the fear for this person. Maybe they have a friend who was just let go. Maybe they are feeling disconnected. Maybe they don’t know how their job fits with the big picture. Maybe they are bored or under-challenged. Listen and ask questions to get to the why behind the statement.
  2. Connect them – Connect them to a project that may be a little more visible even if their role is small. I have even delegated my spot on a project to others to give them visibility. As a manager, ask yourself if it has to be you! Connect them with the team by having them work with someone else on a project. Connect them to the vision and strategy of the organization or team.
  3. Show appreciation – Maybe you need to recognize their contributions a little more than other team members need. A thank you or an email to a higher level manager can go a long way. Visibility over email is even more important today with people not working in a traditional office.
  4. Ask them to share – Prompt them to share their project at a team meeting so others can comment. If they attended a webinar lately, ask them to share their learnings with the team and how it may be applicable to our work.
  5. Encourage them to take initiative – With high-performing team members, sometimes what I may think is a full workload may not be to them. Some people want to take on many projects at once or step into a broader role on a project to feel they are adding value. Now, I don’t think this should all come from the manager. Ask them to look at their team or connect with others to see if something can be eliminated, improved or automated or we should be doing something we are not doing. Ask them to research and put a proposal together. There are many efforts that don’t cost money and just require an investment of time.

Approach this fear with compassion and a little investigation. Many times, managers have to wear the hat of counselor along with coach. This could be a “counselor” moment to understand the why behind the fear.

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