My bank is in the midst of a wrenching merger involving lots of layoffs. Morale is low, and the people who report to me are in the dumps. How can I motivate my troops when even I don't know the game plan?

Dear Dark:

You can start by being honest. Tell them there's a change in culture and that job security is no longer a given.

Though you may not be aware of the big picture, give direction and clarity within your own sphere. Certain functions are givens. So get your people to work on what needs to be done in any event.

They, not the company, are now the managers of their careers.

When Meridian Bancorp in Pennsylvania decided to cut 700 jobs, chief executive Samuel A. McCullough told his workers that things were going to be tough, but he promised to keep the lines of communication open.

Tell What You Know

It's important for people to know what the steps are and when they are expected to be taken, Mr. McCullough says. So tell as much as you know as soon as you know it.

Kim Cameron, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan, recalls what happened at a meeting attended by employees from different levels of a company going through layoffs.

When the junior staff members complained that they weren't getting any information, the senior officers said they had nothing to pass on yet.

The junior employees' response: Then tell us that.

Here are some other suggestions:

* Cut red tape as much as possible. During a restructuring, people feel they have no control over their lives. Give them power to modify their work flows and to find new ways to work, advises William A. Roiter, a psychologist at American Psych Management, which runs employee-assistance programs.

* Don't be afraid to change people's assignments, even in the midst of turmoil. That helps break down stereotypes and helps people get focused again, says Lee McCullough, a director of financial services at the Hay Group, a human resources consulting firm. He also suggests team-building programs, such as Outward Bound, to pull people together.

* Encourage people to grow and develop personally. Let them know about any opportunities the bank sponsors. And send for continuing-education course catalogues from local colleges.

* Finally, don't underestimate the importance of helping those employees who are laid off. Outplacement services and decent severance packages are musts.

But the survivors will really take notice if you show personal interest in helping those laid off to land new jobs.

Make phone calls for them; let them know of opportunities at your bank and other companies; and stay in touch to see how they are doing.

Your remaining troops will see a personal trait that is dying in the corporate world, a trait they may return in kind: loyalty.

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