Last week we talked about the obligations that managers and business owners face when making decisions about redundancy, and the criteria for determining a genuine (lawful) redundancy. Today we look at the best way to communicate a redundancy to the affected employee (or employees), to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.

So let’s say it’s your job to deliver the redundancy news. You’ve arranged the meeting, somewhere quiet and confidential, with the employee sitting in front of you. You may be feeling uncomfortable, anxious, perhaps even a bit sick; all perfectly understandable, considering you’re delivering some fairly serious news  without being sure what sort of reaction you’re in for. The best way to approach this situation is with a clear plan, possibly a script, and being prepared for the possible reactions you might receive. Your explanation should consist of three points – why the redundancy is happening, what the consequences are for the staff member (e.g. redundancy package, notice period) and what the immediate next steps are.

Faced with the news that their position no longer exists, people respond with different concerns and individual emotions. Whilst you cannot be sure exactly what reactions you are going to get, you can be prepared with how you will respond to these in the meeting.

Shock and denial – They may say “I don’t believe it” “You must be joking” or “But I’ve worked here for years”. Or they may sit in silence after the opening statement. Try not to overload them with subsequent information until they have had time to express some reaction. Ask questions to determine if they have heard and understood the message. Gently repeat and reinforce the news to them.

Distress – An employee may become tearful, or say “What am I going to do now?”. It is important that the employee has time to process the news, so don’t worry about sitting and saying very little if they are crying or trying to compose themselves. Once you are sure they are listening, try to redirect their attention towards the supports that are going to be available to them. Make statements to acknowledge their distress, such as “I appreciate this has come as a shock” but do not be drawn into apologising or colluding against upper management.

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Anger and Hostility – In this case the employee may show physical signs of anger such as a raised voice or threats, or you may observe changes in their demeanour. They may makes statements such as “do you think I’m going to accept this without a fight”. When subjected to anger and hostility, it is essential not to get drawn into justifying the situation, taking sides or launching into debate about past issues. Instead, let the employee express their anger and acknowledge it but concentrate on retaining your own composure. Look for openings to lead them towards learning what support will be made available to them.

Note: If at any time you feel unsafe, trust your instincts about whether you need to cease the meeting and leave the room. You may decide you only feel comfortable resuming the meeting with another person present.

Bargaining – You may hear “Can the decision be delayed a bit’ or “could I just take a pay cut or reduce my hours”. Engaging in any type of negotiation would likely give false hope, raise any number of inconsistencies and leave you wide open to difficulties with other employees later on. At the time it is important to
stress that all possible avenues for alternatives were investigated by the business and that the decision was not made lightly but it is final.

Relief and Acceptance – Normally seen in those who have been expecting a decision or where the process has been going on for a long time and where a lot of uncertainty has been present in the organisation. They may make statements such as “Well, I was expecting this” or “I’m glad the decision has been made – what now”. To confirm that this isn’t just a different form of shock or denial, probe gently and ensure that the message was heard and understood, lay out the necessary and subsequent actions and the availability of support structures open to them.

In summary:

  • Keep the meeting to the point – it should not exceed 15 minutes;
  • Don’t engage in small talk – get straight to the point;
  • Don’t deviate from the script, be consistent and confirm the decision is final;
  • Emphasise that the ROLE, not the PERSON, is being made redundant;
  • Be empathetic but in control. Be prepared to listen, and allow the employee to vent emotion;
  • Don’t apologise, offer false hope, blame anyone else, or suggest that you know how they feel;
  • Do not get drawn into an argument, or debate the finality of the decision; and DO NOT discuss any other factors as having contributed to the decision, such as the employee’s performance, attitude, behaviour, tenure or age.

Keep an eye out for part 3 of our blog series later this week where we look at how to manage the fallout; taking care of the exiting employee as well as those staff left behind.

Until then, Happy HR’ing.

Missed last week’s blog? Check it out here.

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