The UK is now officially in recession for the first time in 11 years, with coronavirus causing the biggest economic slump on record and, with it, company payrolls have plummeted.
Almost three-quarters of a million people have already lost their jobs since lockdown began. Now, those whose jobs were originally spared by the furlough scheme are adding to this figure as unemployment accelerates.
For hard-hit sectors, redundancy may be a necessary business decision, but it is important to remember that it is one with real human casualties. The experience can be incredibly difficult for all involved, and employers have a responsibility to support staff in the best way they can.
Here are 5 tips for dealing with the human side of making redundancies.
1. Be upfront and honest
No reasonable employer takes the decision to make redundancies lightly. You will no doubt have explored all possible alternatives and confirmed that redundancy is inevitable before making a conclusion that stands to impact your workforce so dramatically, and sharing this information with employees may help them to better understand your position and appreciate why this is a necessary decision.
The more transparent you are around how, when and what shape the redundancy will take, the less it becomes a case of ‘us versus them’ and the easier it will be for everyone.
2. Give employees the facts
It is likely that most employees will not have experienced redundancy before, so explaining how the process works and providing them with information, such as where to go for advice, will relieve the added unease of not knowing where they stand or where to go from here.
Similarly, be open about employees’ rights in redundancy situations, such as their right to appeal, so that they have all the facts. Not only will this help employees to feel more informed and at ease about their options, but it will demonstrate genuine care and concern for those affected, which will help to ensure a more positive lasting impression of their employment despite the difficult circumstances.
3. Make sure people are fairly selected
Feeling as though you have been unfairly targeted for redundancy is a sure-fire way to turn the situation hostile. To combat this – and ensure you are prepared for any “why me and not them?” discussions – make sure you have followed a fair selection process. This means developing objective, non-discriminatory selection criteria and applying these criteria consistently across the board. You should not, for example, select an employee based on their age, gender or for any subjective reason such as managers’ personal preferences. Using employees’ length of service or sickness absence record to select for redundancy may also be discriminatory.
As well as putting the employee through further distress, getting this wrong can also leave your business exposed to Employment Tribunal claims, so make sure to carefully consider your selection criteria and document your decision making.
4. Support their next move
There is never a good time to be made redundant, but in the current job market, finding alternative employment might feel impossible, adding further stress to an already difficult situation. Do what you can to help employees find their next role, from talking through their options with them to putting them in touch with contacts who can aid their job search or other employers who may be looking to hire.
At a time when things might seem hopeless, it might be encouraging for employees to know that some businesses are booming despite the lockdown. By highlighting the employee’s key transferrable skills, you may be able to suggest possible new career paths that they haven’t previously considered. You may also wish to consider offering outplacement support to affected staff; this can offer them one-to-one assistance with things like CV writing and interview practice.
5. Don't forget those not directly affected
You may only need to make a very small number of redundancies, but it is important to remember the wider psychological impact of any downsizing decisions. Having a co-worker made redundant can cause turmoil within a team and cause employees to fear for their own job security.
Encourage people to come to you, their line manager or another appointed person with questions or concerns and reassure them if you can. If you can’t guarantee that their role won’t be similarly affected, don’t make promises you can’t keep; continue to be honest and open about the possibility of future redundancies if this is the case. Make sure that any senior staff involved in these discussions are singing from the same hymn sheet to prevent crossed wires and misinformation.
Remember, word spreads fast in workplaces. A lack of communication creates a breeding ground for rumours to spread, so update employees regularly (even if there’s nothing to report) and keep them informed as the situation progresses.
Above all, be human. Keep in mind that redundancy is not only a difficult time for your business but potentially life-changing for your employees. As well as a pay packet, jobs give us a sense of identity, friendship and pride, and this is likely to be an emotionally-charged moment.
With this in mind, while it is important to give proper thought to the employment law implications of redundancy, you should also make sure you are prepared to deal with the human side of letting people go. This means being clear and authentic in your communications, treating people with respect and dignity, and simply being willing to listen. Continue to foster these soft skills in your managers, as situations like redundancy remind us just how important sensitivity and emotional intelligence can be.
Don’t forget, too, that there are business benefits of handling redundancy well. By following a fair process and supporting staff throughout, you can establish yourself as a responsible employer, preserve your reputation, and keep employees engaged and productive at this critical time for business everywhere.
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