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 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.
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