Redundancy - it's not your fault

Making an employee redundant is probably the most difficult task a manager will ever have to do.

Understandably perhaps most of the focus about redundancy is written from the perspective of the employee. Well, I would like to focus on the employer, particularly the SME business owner who no fault of their own finds themselves in the position of having to dismiss colleagues, some of whom may have become friends.

It’s an incredibly tough job to do and I don’t think business leaders receive enough recognition of this, or support for doing a job that they really don’t want to do. To be clear, I’m not referring to legal or HR support that tells them “how to”. I’m referring to the emotional and practical support that will help them deal with this most difficult of tasks.

I have worked in HR for 40 years and most of that time has been spent working with SME business leaders. Based on my experiences I would like to pass on six pieces of advice.

  • It’s not your  fault, you shouldn’t feel guilt

Easier said than done I know but if the situation you are facing has been brought about by COVID 19 and you have done all that you reasonably could do to safeguard your business, how can it be your fault that you are having to make staff redundant? Feeling guilty is a natural feeling but it’s not a logical response and when managing a redundancy programme, you have to think logically.

  • Don’t worry if it hurts, it should

Whilst you shouldn’t feel guilt, the decision you have made and the action you are taking will hurt. And it’s good that it does hurt because in this instance hurt represents care, concern, and thoughtfulness. It’s natural that you will find making your staff redundant a painful process; you are taking an action/s that you don’t want to take. Your feeling this way shows compassion and humanity.

  • Speak with somebody

Managing redundancies is a lonely task for a business owner because ultimately it’s their decision to make and their decision to action. It’s not a task that they should undertake in isolation. It’s a very pressurised situation to face.

That’s why it’s important to speak with a third party, be it a colleague, business connection, social acquaintance, or family member. Somebody from whom you can get a second opinion and/or “unload” onto. This is not a business problem to keep bottled up.

  • You are in fact protecting jobs

I have recently been working with a business owner who has had to make five employees redundant, 20% of his workforce. He has felt guilt about the decision that has been forced on him and has found the process very stressful and difficult to deal with.

During one of our conversations I asked him what the consequences would be if he did not take this action. He told me that if he did nothing, eventually the whole business would be at risk of closing.

As I pointed out, the hard decision of making five employees redundant, was saving the jobs of twenty others.

  • Seek professional advice 

A redundancy is a dismissal and as with all dismissals a fair procedure must be followed. Before taking action you should take the advice of an experienced redundancy practitioner who will explain the steps that you must take to ensure that the process is undertaken fairly, reasonably, and legally. 

  • Remain focussed and business-like, don’t get emotional. 

Ultimately this is a business decision and should be treated as such. The importance of compassion and humanity and treating employees with dignity and respect must never be overlooked but “at the end of the day” you have made a considered commercial decision to take steps to protect your business and the livelihoods of employees. 

Hard as it may seem, what “good” are you to anybody if you allow emotion to overly influence your decision? You run the risk of making the wrong business decision.

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