Managing the Human Side of Facility Closure Projects

 

Planning and executing a facility shutdown project is a complex effort. A wide range of tasks must be carefully sequenced to ensure operations continue as long as necessary, and the rest of the organization should be shielded as much as possible from any of the closures negative downstream effects.

With all of these other critical-path concerns on their plate, project teams sometimes miss the human-side issues of facility closure initiatives. Knowing what kind of impact the project will have on individuals can give PMs important insight on partnering with employees as they work together to make the transition as smooth and efficient as possible.

Fear
Those impacted by the closure may feel a significant amount of fear. They’re likely to be worried about their job, which can also lead to pressing financial concerns that have the potential to overshadow much of their involvement in shutdown activities. Their fears may even change as the project progresses and they see operations being phased out or relocated. Because few details are often available at the beginning of a shutdown project, and because worry makes many people less able to focus on their jobs, PMs should closely monitor productivity levels throughout the project’s lifecycle. In addition, maintaining the necessary workforce while the facility is still in operation can be difficult if employees decide to seek employment elsewhere rather than wait to learn about their fate.

The HR team can be a valuable partner in helping to forecast upcoming staffing requirements and availability. This will help the project team balance workers’ concerns with the organization’s need to maintain productivity levels.

Desire for information
In the early stages, companies are frequently unable to provide all the information employees want to know. The organization may still be determining how many positions it can support and how staffing levels will fluctuate as operations wind down—rather than simply reducing headcount numbers, in some cases shutdown projects actually require the addition of temporary workers to complete time-sensitive or labor-intensive activities. Even once staffing details have been hammered out, the business may still wish to keep the information under wraps until its disclosure is absolutely necessary, such as when mandated by labor laws.

No matter the reason, project teams should be prepared to receive more inquiries from stakeholders than are typical in other types of projects. Assigning a single point of contact and establishing short timelines for responding to questions—even if the information requested can’t yet be released—can go a long way toward maintaining engagement between the project team and the impacted worker groups.

Unhappiness and anger
For workers whose jobs will be eliminated, or who either aren’t eligible for relocation opportunities or whose personal situations don’t support moving to a new facility, there’s likely to be a fair bit of unhappiness, sadness, even anger. The HR team will take a primary role in managing employees’ reactions but PMs are sure to experience some side effects. They may find that some workers translate their unhappiness into reduced productivity. Absenteeism also often increases as employees lose interest in showing up for a job they know is ending. They may also need time off to interview with prospective employers. Even if attendance is unaffected, job performance is likely to drop due to distractions and a lack of motivation.

Project managers should work closely with HR and frontline supervisors to minimize how much workers’ unhappiness affects job performance and productivity metrics. For example, it’s often helpful to give staff time to pursue new employment opportunities. This enables them to maintain a positive outlook while allowing the team to minimize operational disruption.