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Your Employees Are Concerned About Layoffs. Here’s How You Can Start to Calm Their Fear.

Open your LinkedIn feed. You won’t have to scroll long before you come across someone posting about their recent layoff. If you’ve ever been in that position, you know how  scary it is to read a post like that.

Even if your current company hasn’t laid off anyone.

That’s the thing about fear.

It is a fire that spreads fast enough on its own, but the word layoff and 10,000 extra shares make it spread even faster. It is a fire that consumes rationality. It is a fire that will burn right through the reassuring statements of government economists.

Economic anxiety–also known as “Oh, Crap, How Am I Going to Pay the Rent? Syndrome”–is in the air.

If you are a CEO or a founder, now is the time to sharpen your internal communication game.

You can start by being a better leader.

Increase your accessibility

A leader who separates themself from their people is no leader at all. A leader behind a locked door (whether real or metaphorical) also gives the impression that they are working on something they don’t want their team to see.

Like a reduction-in-force announcement.

Tough times call for visibility. Even if you don’t know what to say, now is the time to be seen.

People look to leaders for certainty–now is the time to deliver

In case you haven’t heard, we are in uncertain times–and in uncertain times people look to their leaders to deliver certainty.

Certainty doesn’t require having all (or even any) of the answers. Instead, certainty means knowing the strength and character of yourself and the people you surround yourself with. Being certain means you are confident in their ability to overcome their biggest challenges. Being certain doesn’t mean saying, “I know we can get through this.” It means saying, “I know that we–and you–are going to be OK in the long run, no matter what happens tomorrow.”

It means following that statement up with real action.

(You can start by doing everything you can to help them find a new job. Do not post a photo of yourself crying on LinkedIn. See the next section for more on the uselessness of performative empathy.)

As a leader, you can’t control the level of uncertainty your employees feel about the market, your industry, or the general direction of society. But you can make them feel certain about you.

Remember: Performative empathy is the opposite of real leadership

Genuine empathy is a great thing. However, we have fetishized empathy. We demand an emotional performance, even in scenarios where real empathy couldn’t possibly exist. We expect leaders to show their empathy even when they couldn’t possibly know what it feels like to face the terror of an uncertain economic future.

Here’s the thing: More than 60 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. An unexpected medical bill can bankrupt a family who played by the rules their entire lives.

If you’re a CEO and you’ve ever been able to contemplate even a theoretical financial future measured in the millions–or more–then you do not know what it feels like to stare down the barrel of a mortgage or rent bill coming due with no idea how you’ll pay it.

So don’t pretend that you do.

Individual CEOs and corporate leaders cannot prevent downturns. Recessions or even slowdowns are complex events with causes that can remain mysteries for decades. Employees understand times are tough, and their CEO and senior leaders didn’t cause the turmoil affecting the economy.

They also understand that there are enormous differences between your average employee losing their job and a CEO who is inevitably already writing their own comeback story.

If you’re on the still-employed side of the desk (or the Zoom meeting, or even worse, the mass email), then don’t pretend you’re in the same boat. You’re not.

That’s not real empathy.

It’s just BS corporate performance art.

It’s like being lowered into the Atlantic Ocean on a lifeboat while you’re yelling back at the people on the deck of the Titanic, “We’re all in this together!”

Tough times call for better leadership. And better communication.

The two are usually the same.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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