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Making redundancies? Avoid these mistakes by making it a more human experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the protective measures put in place by governments around the world have taken their toll on businesses, big and small. The financial outlook is murky, and job losses are sadly hitting the headlines on a daily basis.

If you’ve been working for a while, it’s likely you have encountered redundancy at one point or another. Whether on the receiving end of a process, or as part of a team that has been impacted, most will recognise that it is a standard business practice in today’s ever-changing world. Although it doesn’t make it easier for those involved, organisations have to adapt when markets flux and consumer trends shift. And when they are continually innovating and reengineering processes and ways of working, resourcing requirements sometimes need to change for long-term growth and survival.  

But despite the emotional toll redundancy takes on people, including those that need to implement the process, there are ways to make the experience more human. And at a time when most redundancy conversations need to take place via video calls, getting it right matters even more.  

Here’s our take on a few things that are often overlooked, and some simple ways to maintain engagement. Because if you get it wrong, not only will you cause unwarranted harm and frustration to those impacted, but your employer brand and reputation will suffer with talent and consumers alike.  

1.    Every leader within the business is accountable.

Only a small team of people are usually involved in managing a redundancy process, but every leader in the business has a responsibility to own the changes being made. And the entire leadership team should act with empathy and compassion towards all those impacted, including teams that will remain in the business.

Leaders cannot underestimate the role they play in modelling the right behaviours and upholding company culture. Redundancy is not an ‘HR issue’. Failing to show a more thoughtful and human side will have a detrimental and long-lasting impact. People deserve consideration and kindness, so all leaders should be well-briefed before kicking off any process and should be encouraged to find ways to connect with compromised teams.


2.    Downplaying redundancies will only make matters worse.

It can be daunting to discuss redundancy, but pretending it’s not happening is a massive fail. Yes, it’s really tough to know what to say sometimes, but sweeping it under the carpet should never be an option. Businesses have an obligation to help leaders, managers and other employees understand the redundancy process and the rationale for the change too. And they should actively provide training, guidance and support to those who are frequently engaging with the people most impacted. It will ensure that they in turn feel equipped and empowered to offer the right support.


3.    Get the process right and pay attention to the detail.

If there was ever a moment when attention to detail mattered, this is it. If you are managing a process or your team is being impacted, triple check your correspondence; sense check any financials and get the facts right. Doing so can mitigate stress and uncertainty. It’s also vital that you involve the right people in the process from the get-go and that everyone, from HR to the finance teams, is fully aligned. Your engagement and communication teams should also be given a heads-up early on so that they can support where required and are able to plan accordingly.


4.    Make an effort to sustain a sense of community.

More often than not, those that are being impacted will have a notice period and it’s important that they continue to feel valued and included until their final day. Everyone in the organisation can play a part in making that happen. After a crisis like COVID-19, it’s highly likely you have a somewhat fractured organisation on your hands. Do what you can to create a sense of community because those remaining in the business will feel rocked by the changes too. It is hard to maintain cohesiveness and connection in a fragmented and remote business, but it’s critical if you want to rebuild quickly.


5.    Create a platform for two-way dialogue.

Give those impacted an opportunity to discuss their questions, challenges and fears openly and regularly, without fear or judgement. Redundancy is not a reflection of an individual’s performance, so be respectful. Give people a platform to share their thoughts and really listen to what they have to say. People leaving your business can offer critical insight into your culture, and if treated respectfully can still be strong advocates for your brand. Create frequent opportunities for conversation and respond to questions promptly.


6.    Keep it real and be transparent.

Clear, open and honest communication should always be the norm, but it really matters during a redundancy process. There is nowhere to hide today and, unless you want swathes of people airing your dirty laundry on Glassdoor and LinkedIn, you need to keep it real. Be transparent about the process and give all employees solid context for the changes that you are making. People are more compassionate as a result of the experience we have all lived through and, on the whole, are more resilient too. They will appreciate an honest and human approach.


7.     Don’t point the finger.

Now is not the time for scapegoating – do not start placing the blame on individuals. Many of the people being made redundant will not have had the ability to impact broader business decisions that informed the redundancy. Finger pointing damages your culture beyond repair. How you treat people upon exit is as important as how you engage with them as they join the organisation. Every moment of an employee’s journey within your organisation counts.


8.    Prioritise mental health.

Redundancy can sometimes have a devastating impact on people’s lives. For every resilient person impacted that sees a positive in the change, someone else will struggle with the uncertainty that may follow. Employers need to put a robust support network in place to safeguard those affected. This guide from Mind, the mental health charity, is a good place to start if you or someone you know is struggling right now. And don’t forget the mental health of those left behind to pick up the pieces. They need your ongoing support too.


It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, redundancy is a really tough experience. But by thinking beyond process and legalities, and really considering the impact of your actions and the behaviours of the wider business, you are more likely to support those impacted in the best possible way while protecting your reputation, and your employer brand. It will also mean that you are able to recover swiftly and build the business for the future positively, with the goodwill of your people behind you.


*In no way does this article give you the legal lowdown on managing a redundancy process. We suggest you seek advice from an employment lawyer if needed.