Leading After Layoffs

Thirty million managers aren’t old enough to have gone through restructuring waves. Now they’re being asked to pick up the pieces.

For weeks, hundreds of executives have been announcing layoffs, telling shareholders that managers have to do more with less.

But experts say organizations should also be paying attention to those managers left behind. Firms suddenly have not only taken away people and money from managers; they’ve also asked those managers to pick up the pieces after, in many cases, a traumatic event.

It’s a particularly sensitive issue with younger or less experienced managers, who might never have gone through a major restructuring before. “The layoffs are never easy, but these managers are trying to do something that they’ve never gone through themselves,” says Brad Frank, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and member of the firm’s Technology practice.

More than 94,000 workers in US-based tech companies (or tech companies with a large US workforce) have been laid off in mass job cuts so far this year, according to a tally by Crunchbase News. That’s not far away from the 140,000 jobs cut in the industry in all of 2022. The restructurings aren’t confined to technology, either. According to the latest government stats, companies fired or laid off 1.4 million people in December and another 1.7 million in January.

As of last year, there were about 32 million Americans age 25 to 44 working as managers, according to government data. Even the oldest members of that cohort likely weren’t managers in the late 2000s, during the last major round of layoffs. The only comparable experience for them was when the pandemic shut down many parts of the country for weeks in 2020. But that situation was different, experts say, because it was a health care-related crisis, and many organizations resumed hiring within months.

This time around, the restructurings appear to be more traditional business decisions. Executives believe their firms' profits aren’t growing enough and are trimming expenses. Some younger managers, having risen to their positions during a period of decent economic growth, could be having difficulty with the transition, says David Vied, a senior client partner and global sector leader of Korn Ferry’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice. Even the C-suite may find all of this challenging. “I see boards struggling with millennial CEOs,” Vied says.

Young managers are asking how they can rebuild trust among their direct reports and organizations , says Flo Falayi, a Korn Ferry associate client partner and leadership coach. “They should lead with authenticity and transparency,” he says.

Many organizations are at least cognizant of the increasing burden placed on middle managers due to hybrid work schedules and, more recently, a push for more productivity. Some firms have provided leadership-development training or invested in technology that handles administrative tasks, potentially freeing up a manager’s time. 


For more information, contact Korn Ferry's People Strategy & Performance business.