Given the severity of the current crisis, it is unfortunately the case that some organisations are starting to look at the question of redundancies. This is never an issue that should be approached lightly and there are a whole host of things organisations should look at before even considering this possibility, as laid out in our previous article on facing big decisions - most notably making full use of the government's furlough scheme and other government support for as long as it is available.

I can honestly say, though, that I have never met a senior manager in any organisation that enjoys making people redundant. I would go as far as saying that most hate it and do everything they can to avoid it. Why, in that case, do so many people I have met over the years who have been made redundant believe that they were specifically targeted?  These people all had one thing in common – they felt that their redundancy was a result of a “first resort” mentality; the classic idea that as soon as an organisation needs to save money, it will knee-jerk to a solution that results in job losses. This apparent lack of thought sharpens their idea that the redundancy was personal and people in this position tend to tell everyone who will listen about how they were badly treated by an organisation they felt they had shown loyalty to. These key words have cropped up in most of the conversations I have had with people over the years.

However, many of these conversations have taken a darker turn. Naturally, I will ask people how they are coping and whether they have found a new job. They generally state that they are coping well but reveal that they have been in job interviews where they are asked why they left their former employers. The majority, not all, reply with phrases such as, “Oh, I tell them straight”. It seems, on first hearing, a fairly innocuous remark but it proves quite clearly that the effects of how their redundancy was managed can have a detrimental effect on the person’s chances of landing the new job. I have spoken to many HR professionals who have been in interviews when candidates have said something like this, and they have all confirmed that such perceived negativity would preclude a job offer.

Unconsciously displaying disengagement, chips on the shoulder and baggage will reduce a person’s employability. Organisations tend to focus on the process of redundancy at the expense of the human effect it will have on individuals. This is not a criticism – no organisation wants to get the process wrong and HR professionals and managers have to tread a careful path between supporting people and becoming their “agony aunts”. Detachment is a key survival mechanism for those who are making the redundancies and no one should dismiss the dilemmas decision-makers go through. But here lies the fundamental problem – we all know senior managers have doubts about whether they have thought everything through and whether they are making the right decisions. Why, in that case, do they not share these dilemmas with the staff who are directly affected?

Many senior managers admit that it would never occur to them, some state that they believe it would show weakness. The latter belief is an unfortunate result from the way managers have traditionally been trained but this is now an out of date perception. Where senior leaders have been honest about their dilemmas, people have been able to put their personal situation in perspective. They know the redundancy is not aimed personally at them because the individual is fully informed about why the redundancies have happened and what other options were investigated before reaching the final decision. The key factor here is that managers have proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that the redundancy is an absolute last resort.

The conversations I have had with people where this has been communicated are very different from those previously described. When people have this perspective, their performance in job interviews is more positive because they are looking forward not backwards. It also indicates that this person is adaptable and not afraid of change. This will be key to re-employment in the post-lockdown world and it is within every senior manager’s gift to influence that positive mindset.

There will always be a small percentage of people – around 5% of any workforce based on my personal experience – who will never believe the facts and will invent hidden agendas regardless of how detailed communications from senior managers are. This should not, however, deter managers from “telling it like it is”. The COVID-19 crisis will force some organisations into the ultimate decision to reduce their workforce. When this is inevitable, the organisation will need to be very clear about the following:

  • The core objective that has led to redundancies – if it is about the organisation’s survival, be explicit about that
  • Outline the dilemmas and different options that were considered to try to avoid redundancies
  • Explain why those other options would not have met that core objective
  • Outline factually what would happen to the organisation if the redundancies do not happen
  • Acknowledge the risk factors, particularly around employee engagement and business as usual
  • Keep everyone in the organisation informed – all employees need to know this key information
  • Keep communicating – repetition is not negative because some people need this to fully digest what is happening
  • Help people to prepare themselves to seek re-employment effectively, without “the baggage”
  • Be honest at all times
  • State explicitly that the redundancies are an absolute last resort rather than infer that fact

Even if organisations are having to move at a rapid pace, these questions will have been addressed. By taking a step back and reminding themselves of the longer-term effects of disengagement, senior managers will play a significant part in establishing a better future for all of those they have to let go.

Derek Luckhurst is Training and Development Director at the IPA

Der[email protected]

07780 697024

If you want any more information on IPA's training for managers and representatives going through or considering redundancies, please get in touch with Derek to discuss how we could help.