Can we do redundancy with respect?

We all dread redundancy

We all dread redundancy

I have a confession to make.  I have been making people redundant and helping employers to plan and implement redundancies for over 30 years.   But I am not as good looking as George Clooney

There are two other differences from the film clip – I don’t have a great script writer or the opportunity to re-run scenes when they go wrong, and I don’t believe that someone other than the boss should dismiss.

I have seen so many types of redundancy being implemented.  I’ve always done what I could to make the process as fair as possible, and the communication as clear and compassionate as possible.    I am not saying I have always succeeded.  Anyone in an advisory role can only achieve so much.  The truth is that the law requires certain processes at certain stages, but it does not require the human touch.

For many organisations, the human touch is simply not part of the management systems.  Between finance and metrics, goals, targets and measurements, the custodian of the ‘human touch’ is often not the manager – who has individual relations with each of their direct reports – but Human Resources.

I work with a number of HR specialists who display an admirable understanding of the people side of redundancy, and advocate open, clear and compassionate ways of communicating.    Other HR practitioners are much more focussed on compliance.

We have always known that some redundancy (and other) dismissals were coldly, even brutally carried out.   Over 2.7million people have been made redundant in the UK in the last few years, and the number is still rising.  If we’ve had a ‘failure rate’ of 10%, that’s an awful lot of people being treated very roughly.  The real numbers may be far higher.

When I started working with the Redundancy Crusader, I felt reasonably proud of the work I had done – all the planning, communicating, working through how to deal with difficult feelings.  Then I began to hear from individual people who had been made redundant.  Some had been subject to really brutal moments of rejection, but others had gone through what I would have regarded as a fairly standard procedure.

After a while it dawned on me that there is a long way to go even the best organised redundancy exercise before we really have got a process that would justify the title “Redundancy with Respect”.    A lot of the processes which I had taken for granted as self-evidently needed were causing trauma to individuals who were not given any kind of understanding about what was going on and why.  When we talked, they understood the thinking behind the decisions, but asked “Why wasn’t I told that was happening to everyone?”  “Why wasn’t I told that would happen?”   “Why did I have to find out that way?”

We are doing more harm than we know, and far more harm than we need to.  No-one likes to make anyone redundant, but that is no excuse for doing it as badly as generally we are.  If we can’t wake up to the human cost on a simple humanitarian basis and change what we do, then consider this:

All those hurt people (and their friends and family) are on social media.  Signing a compromise agreement may stop them complaining, but it won’t stop their friends and family feeling very negative about the precious brand you took years to develop.

We know that people use social media and the internet to choose fairtrade suppliers, and to monitor working conditions of workers in China.  Ask yourself what would happen if their view of your brand were to be influenced by how they saw your values as an employer?

Genuine “employee engagement” is not much helped by bolting on some bells and whistles, or special events.  It’s about the “brilliant basics” of the human touch on a day-to-day basis, and that’s never more important than when you are having a hard conversation about someone losing their job through no fault of their own.  We can, and we must, do better.

No ambushes
No surprises
No refusing to look at the person.

We are working hard to spread that word that Redundancy can be done with Respect.

If you are a boss or an HR person thinking of making someone redundant, click here to join us for this free teleseminar on Redundancy with Respect on 26 March at 12 noon or claim some free advice to get you started.

March 11th

March 11th

Click here to here our appearance on Croydon Radio on 11th March  

If you have time for a longer video, watch us on TV (video is just under an hour long)

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050                  Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on Twitter


Filed under employment law, redundancy

9 responses to “Can we do redundancy with respect?

  1. Great post Annabel. I am convinced part of the reason for the “brutality” is that those doing the “sacking” can’t sort out their own feelings about what they are doing – guilt is hard to manage. With others, well empathy was not a core competency they saw as worth acquiring. I’m very happy to help raise the flag for your campaign – let us stop the callousness!

    • Thanks Wendy, I do notice that managers who are not at all happy with how the redundancy decisions were made are often more brusque in how they deliver the outputs. Perhaps they don’t want the emotional blame for a decision they feel disempowered in the making of?

      Normally if i can work with the managers to have meaningful input into the selection method and give them a place to voice their concerns, fears and misunderstandings (there are a lot of folk beliefs out there about how things should be done that bear no resemblance to reality), the managers are then more open to the idea of working through how their conversations might go and how to do them in a human way. The fear of going ‘off messaage’ is not so strong if people know how and why we got here and the processes are transparent.

  2. Lovely piece Annabel. So much of what we do can be done gently and effectively. I find that people who have to deliver bad news are reticent to do so fo fear of hurting someone (or being yelled at) so they spend more time being anxious about it and not enough time preparing themselves to be open and available as well as the messenger. It’s not easy delivering bad news but it’s easier if you know what you want to say (stick to one point), how you want to say it, and how you want to BE during the meeting
    If you appear reticent or afraid the person who is suffering the bad news will notice that and go after you with more aggression.

    • It is so hard to be gentle when we are giving bad news. I have often noticed that we want to deliver it abruptly and then get away. Perhaps we don’t want to hang around to deal with people’s reactions?

  3. Redundancy Crusader here: I wholeheartedly agree with Annabel. But then, to misquote Mandy Rice Davies: well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’ve interviewed dozens of people on both sides of the redundancy divide: the givers and the takers. My conclusion is simple: the current model of redundancy isn’t doing any of us any good. That ‘us’ encompasses those who leave an organisation, those who stay, those who wield the axe, those who make the decisions, and the families and communities of those who have had their job taken away from them – often in an unwittingly brutal manner. I feel a pledge coming on: let’s right this wrong.

  4. Brilliant post and very much needed in a still hardening world.

    I know I’ve played a positive and compassionate role in redundancies, and I also know there were projects when I didn’t do it well at all. And I’ve seen first hand that the damage is not restricted to those who left and their families. A business making redundancies is a business in trouble; it needs the survivors to be even more motivated to perform superbly, and not through fear. Their view of how their friends and colleagues were dispatched in critical to this.

    If we acccept your view that many managers can’t do compassionate (and we must because it’s true) then we must also see HR’s role as being to compensate. Part of our planning must include training/coaching for managers, to squeeze any drop of compassion that is available and authentic, or at least to have them avoid some of the more crass errors they make. I agree entirely that line manager must do the deed (and, if they find it at all uncomfortable, then maybe they’ll be encouraged to make better business decisions so they can make fewer redundancies next time around) but I’ve often found it helpful to follow up (immediately after, in some cases) with a counselling meeting. Done well, this can release some of the anger and help ensure that the important messages have been understood.

  5. In redundancy exercises, the managers carrying out the sharp end are not usually in agreement with what is going on (or even been properly briefed), and that is a communication failure by board level members. Some managers will commiserate with the employees affected and postulate a “just carrying out orders” stance.

    Overall most managers are not good at delivering bad news, but then most of them shouldn’t be managing people!

    The problem is that as much as we may weep and wring our hands, there’s no getting away from the hard truth: your job no longer exists. 30 years ago, redundancy was a stigma; now it’s an experience we have all undergone, some of us several times!!

    One final thing I must say is this: Redundancy should never really be a surprise. Any employee who shuts their eyes and ears to what is going on around them are just not with the programme. For instance: what are supermarket check-out people thinking about the self-check out machines? They must realise what is going to happen? (Personally, I refuse to use them, on principle, lol)

    • Redundancy due to new technology ‘at the coal face’ is capable of being predicted. There are many organisations where the redundancy is triggered by a lack of money or the loss of a client where the ordinary workers have no way of anticipating this as nothing is going on in the visible world they work in to indicate there is a problem.

      Many organisations do not publish their management accounts to all staff (understandably) and it can come as a shock – depending on the reasons.

      I agree Redundancy should never really be a surprise – I just think sometimes people don’t have the information available to them in their role to anticipate it or predict it.

      I’d been interested to hear about your three redundancies – was there something about one of them that made it easier than the others? Were you (as I imagine) are senior level for all three? Did one way of delivering the news work better for you than another?

  6. Pingback: Can we do redundancy with respect? | Employment...

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