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What to say when making someone redundant (a delicate and important conversation)

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What to say when making someone redundant (a delicate and important conversation)

Nobody enjoys having to hand out redundancy notices. Indeed, anyone who’s had to do it will tell you it’s one of the worst parts of their job.

Of course, not everyone will be unhappy about their redundancy. Some will have actively pursued it to move on to a different career, company or lifestyle. But it’s those times when you’re handing out redundancy to those who aren’t expecting it and don’t want it who are the hardest to deal with.

Although redundancy isn’t personal, it will feel personal to whoever’s losing their job because it has a profound impact on their life. For most people, losing a job isn’t just about losing an income, it’s also about losing security, status and a sense of belonging.

So if you’re the person who’s responsible for telling someone their job is going, you’ll want to do it as well as you can because this is going to affect their life financially, emotionally and practically.

Handing out redundancy notices is never going to be painless or easy, but if you understand how to deliver each message well, you can do it professionally and compassionately.

Understanding the Redundancy Process

Before you start handing out redundancy notices, it helps to understand the process that’s led to this point. Apart from anything else, it means you can answer questions honestly and openly.

First, a decision has been made by the company directors that redundancies are required. Once that’s been confirmed, responsibility falls to the HR department to organise paperwork and meetings with affected staff.

One of the requirements of making redundancies is that the company must pass on the news as soon as possible after the decision has been made. Redundancies rarely come out of the blue. That’s why staff often sense something is going on well in advance of any announcement. That can be very stressful. Not knowing is horrible, which is why you need to talk to your employees as soon as you can – although not before you’ve got your documents in order and planned how you’re going to pass on the news.

Before making someone redundant, there are three important steps you need to take: preparation, communication and understanding. Employers are legally obliged to warn their employees and unions of any planned reduction in staffing levels. When news is about to break, communication becomes crucially important and the tone of the message is at least as important as the content.

The redundancy selection process

It’s the HR department’s role to decide upon a redundancy selection process. That might mean asking for voluntary redundancies or imposing redundancies as needed. Whether the request for voluntary redundancy results in too few or too many applicants, the HR department will need a rationale and an approach to selecting staff.

Having a process makes redundancies less personal and more strategic, although that doesn’t help the individuals who are losing their job. But it does make it easier for them to understand how their job was cut.

Managing forced redundancies lawfully

Forced redundancy (as opposed to voluntary redundancy) is often fraught with difficulty. It requires a well-developed strategy that supports how and why these redundancies are being made and an awareness of potential problems, such as discrimination claims.

This is why it’s important for employers to be seen as acting objectively and without any prejudice towards an individual or group. Without this wider strategic approach, the process could be open to court challenge.

How to make a redundancy announcement

A redundancy meeting usually includes both managers and HR staff when delivering the news to either an individual or a group,. It’s important that whoever makes the announcement knows enough about the person or group that they can adapt the message both professionally and compassionately.

How to tell someone they’re being made redundant

If you only need to make one or two people redundant, speak to them individually. If possible, arrange to meet them in another part of the office or first thing in the morning or last thing in the day. That way their shock isn’t on show to the rest of the office. The best way to make someone redundant is not to make it personal and focus on the fact that it’s the job that’s being cut, not the person.

How to tell a group they’re being made redundant

If a group or team is being made redundant, it’s best to tell them together. Be aware that redundancy can make people very angry and this emotion could be made worse in a group situation.

Once you ‘ve gathered the group together be direct. Start by saying you’re sorry to inform the team you need to make them redundant. Give a reason why as this will help them understand what’s going on. Be prepared for an emotional reaction but avoid arguing back or becoming a punching bag. Offer support and advice and have an HR advisor on hand who can give detailed information.

10 Tips on How to Announce Redundancy

If you’ve got to break the news to staff, it’s vital you communicate the message clearly and effectively. Here are 10 tips on how best to deliver news of redundancy.

1. Develop a clear and simple communication strategy

Communicate a clear and consistent message based on the business reasons for the change. Be concise and stick to the facts – wordy and complicated messages will only cause confusion and create more upset.

2. Prepare and practise

If you’re giving a speech, prepare a script and practise delivering it until you’re confident and comfortable with the words. Be prepared to answer questions and expect a range of responses. When delivering the news, try not to talk too much as it’s important to listen as well as speak.

3. Avoid leaks

Make sure the news isn’t leaked ahead of the meeting. Those being made redundant must know before their colleagues and co-workers. There’s nothing worse than gossip getting out and causing stress to those who are losing their job and those who are not.

4. Be compassionate, visible and supportive

Telling someone they’re about to lose their job requires compassion and understanding. You can be professional and be a human being too. Make yourself available after you’ve delivered the news so people can ask questions and air grievances. If there are questions you can’t answer, assure them you’ll get back to them.

5. Signpost individuals to resources that can help them

There are a range of organisations, people and companies who can offer support to those who’ve been made redundant. Giving details of help that’s available and how best to access it will help staff feel less isolated and anxious.

6: Don’t assume you know how people will react

You never know how an individual or group is going to respond to news of redundancy. So rather than make assumptions, focus on ensuring you treat staff in a fair, compassionate, and respectful manner.

7: Provide a clear and unambiguous ‘end date’

Don’t tell someone they’re being made redundant without giving them a firm end date. A definite finishing date will make it far easier for them to move on and start looking for a new job.

8: Don’t force people keep their redundancy a secret

Don’t ask people to keep quiet about their redundancy – at least not for more than a few hours. Remember, they’re going to need the support of their friends and colleagues.

9: Avoid making people redundant before a weekend or holiday

If you make someone redundant before a holiday period or weekend, they often end up feeling isolated and unsupported. Apart from anything else, it’s a horrible way to finish a week or start a holiday.

10. Manage yourself through the change

Don’t ignore the fact that, as a manager, you’re also going to be affected by the redundancies. Apart from the stress of giving the news, you’ll probably be losing colleagues and friends as well. Get support from your company if you need it and work on building resilience ahead of making the announcements.

How to support someone who’s been made redundant

For most people, redundancy is a traumatic experience. A job provides security as well as a sense of purpose and belonging. Although someone may have new opportunities available thanks to the change, it’s going to be difficult for them to see this immediately. They first need to process their feelings of rejection, grief, anxiety, panic, worry and loss of self-esteem.

Whether it’s your partner, a member of your family or a close friend who’s been made redundant, it can be hard to know how best to support someone through such a roller coaster of emotions. It’s tempting to want to cheer them up, distract them or to tell them to look at things positively.

But this kind of message won’t help during the first few weeks after the redundancy because they’ll need time and space. They’ll naturally evolve along the path of healing but it’s often those supporting the person being made redundant who interrupt this process by trying to make everything alright.

Trying to make someone feel better is more for your own benefit than the person actually experiencing the redundancy. If you as the supporter resist their emotions, you’ll only ensure they persist because they have no means of being expressed.

Here are a few tips about what to do and what not to do when supporting someone who’s been made redundant.

Don’t:

  • Give pep talks, offer advice or tell them to look on the bright side.
  • Tell them to snap out of it.
  • Tell them they’re being ridiculous, self-indulgent or dramatic.
  • Allow them to avoid dealing with their emotions by focusing on being ‘busy’ e.g. decorating, shopping, partying or drinking.

Do:

  • Be compassionate. Allow them to process their emotions in their own way.
  • Listen to them, hug them and reassure them that you’re there for them whatever happens.
  • When they’re ready, give practical advice about how their skills and competencies can be used in different industries and roles.
  • If they haven’t started to move forward after about 6 weeks, encourage them to talk to a professional counsellor so they can process their feelings.

When supporting someone through the first few weeks of redundancy, it’s easy for you as the supporter to become consumed by their emotions and problems. But remember, it’s okay for you to be happy and live your life. Apart from anything else, you can’t help them if you’re miserable too.

Redundancy – an end and a beginning

Redundancy often brings unwanted and disruptive change. Although it’s both an end and a beginning, how it’s dealt with by the person losing their job will largely depend on their perception of the opportunities available in the future.

Giving staff news they’re going to lose their job is the first step in a process of change that results in a forced transition from one role to another and one period in a career to another.

You can’t walk this path for them, but you can help them take their first transitional steps feeling like a valued individual, not a discarded sweet wrapper. Ensure your message is clear, your delivery professional and your approach compassionate and you’ll have done the best you can in a difficult situation.

Do reach out to us at London Outplacement if you need any advice or support.