Beth Barrow

Dear Gabby,

I’ve got a real mess on my hands. My company recently had layoffs, and I picked up an orphaned team lead named Robert. His manager and most of his group members were laid off. To make matters even “better,” his projects have been phased out. Needless to say, he was shell-shocked when he arrived in my group.

Robert is now the new kid on the block with a remote manager, new team members (only one of the team members is located at his site), and new projects. At his site, the churn level is still high. To add to the situation, his background is heavily weighted to online help, and many of his new projects are paper-based.

I’ve gone out of my way to try to ensure that Robert feels part of the group: teambuilding, one-on-ones, visible projects…you know the drill. They’ve helped some, but I can’t help but notice that he’s not completely engaged in the group or as a project lead.

I’m worried that he’s going to bolt. Given his level of stress, I’m concerned that he might make a rash decision that will help nobody (including him). I know that I have a traumatized employee, so how do I help him through his tough time?

Concerned in Colorado


Dear Concerned,

There isn’t an easy answer to this one. You’ve already done so many good things! So, first, keep doing the things you’ve started:
Continue to acknowledge the difficult transition that Robert’s gone through. You might want to let him know that it’s normal to still feel down.
Continue the one-on-ones. Make sure that at least 50% of the dialogue is coming from him. Awkward silences are OK sometimes.
Other things you might want to consider to help keep Robert on your team are
Find him a friend. Find a positive, functional person at his site who Robert identifies with, and have them spend time together. A lot of times, it’s easier to open up to someone who isn’t your manager. Statistics show that employees are more likely to stay at their current job when they have a good friend at work.
Show him your cards. If you are comfortable, you might want to let Robert know that you are worried about him leaving. You might be surprised by his response. There’s a good chance that he is worried about you laying him off. Even if you find out that he wants to leave, an open conversation will make that transition easier for both of you. Chances are that both of you will feel relieved once you discuss your concerns.
Look him in the eye. During this transition time, it’s important that you see Robert regularly. Work out the logistics together (who travels, how often, when) and put it on the calendar in advance. It might be that a monthly trip makes sense at first, then ramp down from there. It needs to be often enough so that he doesn’t have the “Crikey! It’s the boss!” response when you visit.
Solicit help. It’s OK to tell a couple of senior people in your group that you are concerned about attrition (him and others). You might want to have a few people in your group keep an eye out for morale issues that you might not see.
Talk to the pros. Keep HR in the loop. They often can give suggestions on what to say and how to approach difficult topics to put him at ease.
Map out the risks. Looking at the big picture, you might want to identify the attrition risk for your team overall. Your group is in a tough spot—layoffs are hard on everybody. Identifying the team members who are likely to leave the company might help you manage expectations and even turn around situations so that people don’t want to leave.

To determine the attrition risk for your group, fill in this table

Attrition risk table Stress Level Job Fit Job Satisfaction Relationships Marketable Skills/High Performer
Name 5=ready to bolt. 3=occasionally stressed out, but nothing unusual. 1=thriving, loving life. 5=Not a good job fit (either due to lack of skills or not using key skills the person has.) 3=Reasonably good job fit. 1=Doing dream job, fully using skills and stretching daily. 5=Dislikes what they do.
3=Like what they do most of the time. 1=Love what they do.
5=Has limited relationships at work. 3=Has typical relationships at work. 1=Has close relationships at work. 5=Star performer, very marketable skills 3=Solid performer, marketable skills. 1=Not very marketable, lower skilled than peers. Attrition risk
Robert 5 5 3 5 4 22/25 High
Susan 3 4 3 4 2 16/25 Med
Donald 2 2 1 2 4 11/25 Low