People Management published an extraordinary article on 1 October which stated that a quarter of firms in the UK were unaware of redundancy consultation legalities. Not only is this a genuine shock, it is also hugely worrying. As I have stated in previous articles, redundancy can be the most traumatic experience anyone will face and have argued strongly that any redundancy must be carefully considered and actioned only as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. This does not happen often enough, or at least, not communicated to those involved effectively. Redundancy is not just a figure at the end of a selection process, the way it is processed and consulted on can have a lasting effect on peoples’ future job prospects. I have heard many tales of people displaying baggage and perceived cynicism in job interviews – not surprisingly, this does not result in a job offer.

ACAS have rightly warned that, with many organisations planning to inform workers of layoffs via phone or video calls, employers must build in extra time for logistical issues. Meaningful consultation must be one of them. However, they have found that more than a third of employers (37%) are likely to shed jobs by the end of the year, with many admitting to being unaware of their legal responsibilities around consulting staff. The data is robust; more than 2,000 business representatives were polled by YouGov in September and their findings revealed that large companies were more likely to be looking to cut jobs, with 60% of firms with more than 250 employees anticipating redundancies.

The key finding, however, was that a quarter (24%) of companies admitted they were not aware of their legal responsibilities around consulting staff before making redundancies, rising to a third (33%) of small businesses. This could lead to very serious repercussions for those organisations, but it could also be catastrophic for people and their future job prospects. The data also revealed that, of those planning to make redundancies, more than a quarter (27%) said they would be telling staff via video calls or over the phone. Only a third (33%) intended to tell people in person.

It is difficult to assess whether the way in which people are told is significant for people or not. There is a strong view amongst many senior managers and HR professionals that a face to face conversation is preferable but, in my view, the method is less important than what the person is actually being told. For example, is the organisation proving that the redundancy is a last resort? Is the organisation assuring the individual that their redundancy has not been decided on a whim or a knee-jerk decision? That is what most individuals will think unless it is explicitly proven otherwise.

The message to all organisations has to be that these conversations are potentially life-changing to individuals and must be thoroughly prepared for. It is difficult to see how any preparation can be effective if it does not start with even a basic appreciation of the law. If that is the starting point in terms of knowledge, the UK will be facing a major engagement deficit amongst those who are most in need of showing the best selves.      

Last month the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) warned that the UK was likely to see around 450,000 redundancies this autumn alone. Acas has reported a steep rise in redundancy-related calls to its helpline and have also experienced a four-fold increase in visits to the redundancy advice content on its website since the start of this year, up from 111,000 visits in January to 430,000 in August. Despite this worrying trend, it shows evidence that many people are making sure they are informed even if their organisations are not.

It is essential that all organisations fill this information gap for their own sakes and for those of their employees. There are plenty of websites with accurate and factual information that is well presented and will keep organisations on the right side of the law. That should be the bare minimum. It is also, however, a process where people can experience good practice rather than this bare minimum and that is what organisations should aim to do. The business rationale for making redundancies will, quite understandably, focus on future-proofing the organisation and most people understand and respect that. What many organisations do not realise is that they also have a responsibility to future-proof every individual as well.

So, make sure you understand the law. Tell people that redundancies are not the business objective but are the consequence of one. Admit to people that you have had to address many dilemmas in coming to the decision and have looked at every feasible option before finally deciding. Make it clear to people that they are losing their job as an absolute last resort. If you are unable to communicate these four facts to the individual, you should question whether you are making the right decision.    

The IPA has a suite of training for senior managers and representatives to help everyone understand the basics and good practice related to redundancies. If you would like more information, please get in touch with me at [email protected]

Derek Luckhurst is Training and Development Director at the IPA