Ask any people leader or HR practitioner what their least favourite work activity might be. Chances are that telling people their role is being made redundant would be in their top three. The inevitability of redundancy and outplacement in today’s changing world gives us good cause to skill up on being the bearer of unhappy news. Here are some RiseSmart tips for not only surviving a redundancy roll out, but actually providing the best opportunity for a positive and productive outcome.
1. Delivering unhappy news isn’t much fun.
For the most part, redundancies are more unhappy news than happy news – even when the employee may secretly want one. Organisations don’t like losing good people. In a perfect world, our revenue would grow year on year, our teams would build and all would prosper. But business is not like that. Colleagues don’t like being left behind – escaping the redundancy but left to pick up the pieces. And for the person whose role is made redundant, their world suddenly changes – sending them into a spin of emotions, challenges, fears and possibilities. They will be saying goodbye to colleagues and a community that takes up a big chunk of their day.
Don’t pretend the news is anything else. Acknowledge the unhappiness and the uncertainty that redundancy creates. Don’t dwell on it, but name it. Get it out there. People are allowed to feel a bit troubled and down hearted. And so are you. It’s a natural part of the process.
2. Balance compassion and compliance
Employment separation is a technical process. You need to follow the process to ensure a good outcome. Legal requirements, financial payouts, notification periods, employee contracts are essential; do not stray. At the same time, you don’t want to be the robot managing the outplacement process. Be compassionate. Actively listen. Acknowledge your own sadness or disappointment that the company has had to take this course of action. Acknowledge whatever emotions come up in the conversation. Be compassionate, but don’t be drawn into counselling or giving your own version of why there are redundancies or what other scenarios might have been.
It’s much easier to hold the line when you know you have an excellent career transition (outplacement) provider to take over. When your colleague takes up their program, their transition specialist or coach will be able to guide them to a successful outcome. It is not your job at this time.
3. Focus on the role being redundant, not the person
Regardless of an employee’s performance history, whether they are liked or not, their tenure or any other matter, it is the role that is redundant, not the person. This is the technical nature of redundancy. Stick to this fact. It would be naive not to note that redundancies are sometimes engineered because it’s an easier way to exit a poor performer or a poor recruit. We know that goes on. However, in the process of notification, stick to ‘your role is being made redundant’. In the conversation of notification, you must discard all other assumptions, opinions, reasons and suppositions. This is an operational and financial decision to make the role redundant. It’s too late to unwind that.
4. Learn from the worst redundancy experiences
Our transition specialists at RiseSmart have seen it all. I asked our national team for their worst experiences of redundancy notification, so that we could all learn. Sadly, there was plenty of fodder from which to draw. We’ve turned these experiences into the following guidelines.
- Have a plan. Create as much certainty as you can around redundancy timings and logistics.
- Involve your career transition provider early in the process. We can draw on experience and provide an objective view. Provide redundancy notification training or a refresher course for all your HR practitioners and people leaders before the event. RiseSmart strongly recommends this to all our clients.
- Ensure that all redundancy paperwork is correct.
- The individual’s manager should be the deliverer of the news, ideally accompanied by someone from HR. People leaders need to step up and have the redundancy conversation.
- Keep the message consistent. Always. Do not deviate. We’ve seen clients end up in court.
- Keep it individual. Redundancy notifications in a group setting do not work well for anyone. You don’t know how people will respond and having them in a group setting just increases the risk for negative reactions.
- Focus on the individual. Don’t be drawn into talking about others whose roles are redundant.
- Walking people out immediately should be the exception. If you handle the notification with dignity and compassion, you need to allow for some hand over and farewell. Sometimes there are commercial in confidence reasons for walking, but if you’ve trusted this person to be your employee, that trust should continue.
- Brief your receptionist. What do they say if calls come in for the individual on the day or soon after? You don’t want them saying ‘Oh they’ve just been fired.’ (Real life example.) It might be a simple “Can I get them to call you as soon as possible?” Likewise, have someone manage the affected employee’s schedule meetings with a simple, “Unfortunately they’re unable to keep the scheduled meeting today. Can I call you back to arrange a different time.” No explanation required. You can then work with the affected employee about how they want to handle the messaging personally.
5. Building resilience and starting again
Delivering notifications can be exhausting, draining and emotional. You will need to take care of yourself. The trouble is, even when you close the door on the last redundancy notification, you have a whole new set of challenges. The remaining employees will also need your attention. They too are going through great change. They will need support to build resilience through this transition.