The (R) Redundancy Word
A word we are going to hear a lot more of in the coming months
In this piece I’m not going to explain the procedure to follow in dealing with redundancies, that can wait for another day.
I’m going to consider something which is of equal importance but is often overlooked – the human impact of redundancies. In particular, how to treat all employees with dignity, respect, and compassion at what is a difficult time for them. And the importance of doing so.
In preparing this note I have drawn on some of the experiences I have gained during a 40+ year career in HR which has seen me involved in over 60 redundancy programmes that collectively have involved upwards of 500 employees losing their jobs.
I have learned to regard every redundancy situation as unique. Why, because every business and every set of circumstances are different. No two employees are the same because they all have different “life stories” and the loss of their jobs will affect them in different ways.In my opinion two factors are crucial in successfully managing a situation that you a) don’t really want to be doing and b) certainly do not want to get wrong. Preparation and Individuality.
Drawing on my considerable experience, let me share some thoughts and offer some advice.
Plan, plan and then plan some more
The decision/s that you are taking will have a fundamental effect on not only your business, but the livelihoods of everybody who works for you; those who will be made redundant and those who will be staying. And their families. You are changing peoples lives.
Whilst the process of consultation you will be undertaking will give your employees the opportunity to make suggestions as regards alternatives to redundancy, it is essential that you start the redundancy process with a clear idea of what the needs of your business are. This requires planning, and lots of it.
Think about the timeframe, the wording you are going to use, the selection criteria, the consultation process, the individual conversations that will be necessary, the method of communication, the wording of the correspondence you will have to send, the response to media enquiries, how and when you are going to require employees to leave the business. You are going to need at least one, perhaps several lists.
If you are an SME business owner it is neither reasonable or sensible to take on this planning task by yourself. Involve your senior team, that is what they are there for.
Never on a Friday
As I have said, the success of a redundancy programme lies in the preparation. Start well and you are likely to succeed. Start badly and you are facing an uphill task. That is why you should avoid making announcements of proposed redundancies on a Friday.
Why? Because you are then unable to start the consultation process with employees until they return to work two days later on the Monday. In my experience employees who are facing possible redundancy have questions to ask and points they want clarified – as soon as possible.
The delay caused by the weekend will cause them frustration and lead to the consultation process getting off to a very bad start.
Communicate in a way that reflects the culture of your business
When making any “serious” announcement such as the announcement of proposed redundancies consider how it will be understood by the recipients. It may be perfectly crafted and well delivered, but if it is delivered using “management speak”, it may not be understood by the workforce in which case it will not have served its purpose.
At a time when clarity is required, a badly conceived and delivered message may create unnecessary confusion and worry.
In my experience a common mistake that is made is the failure by business leaders to anticipate questions. They view the process from a one dimensional perspective, their own.
Do not just consider “what questions would I ask?”, think about what questions your employees are likely to ask. The personal circumstances of your employees will be different, and this will be reflected in the questions they will seek answers to.
A single parent with a child at nursery will have different concerns and questions to somebody who is supporting a family member through university, to an employee who you know was planning to retire shortly.
Having made the initial announcement, the temptation is to retreat into your office, shut the door, don’t answer the phone, or look at your emails. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do.
At times like this it is more important than ever to be visible. Why? Because it is expected of you. You have to be available to answer immediate questions and clarify points. You also have to serve as a “lightning rod” for employee anger. Not very pleasant I know but better that than allowing anger – and amongst other emotions expressed there will be anger – to fester and go unchecked.
One other point to consider. Over the coming days and weeks your behaviour is going to be scrutinised by all employees, including, crucially those who will be remaining with the business and who you will be relying on to continue working for the business. Are they going to respect you, or even want to continue to work for you, if they perceive you as being a manager who “runs and hide at the first sign of trouble?”
Even if consultation were not a legal requirement, it would still be good practice. On many occasions my client and myself have been pleasantly surprised with the number of good suggestions that “at risk of redundancy” employees have come up with as alternatives to redundancy. Suggestions that have led to jobs being saved.
The fact is that even though it is your business, and despite all of the planning that you have done, you do not have a monopoly of always having a solution. Consult with an open mind. See this as an opportunity to learn more about your business, not a process that has to be followed.
Don’t forget about the staff who remain in your business
When you are managing a situation that will likely lead to redundancies, understandably, and quite correctly, your focus is on those employees who may be about to lose their jobs.
But it’s important not to forget those employees who will be staying with the business. They are the ones who are going to be instrumental in helping you rebuild your business. Communicate with them, involve them, share with them. They are your future.
And for goodness sake don’t think “well they should be grateful to have a job!” and ignore them. Because if you adopt that approach they won’t be working with you for much longer. They will leave. And with it will go your chances of rebuilding your business.