· 3 min read · Comment

Has the wellbeing of senior staff and HR been ignored in the pandemic?

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New estimates from the government's spending watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility reveal that around 2.2 million people, or 6.5% of all workers, could be unemployed at the end of the year.

Most economists expect the unemployment rate – the number of people are able to work and who want a job but can't find one – to rise this year. This is mainly due to the government support schemes, such as furlough, ending after September 2021.

Workers in hospitality, retail and entertainment have been badly hit. These jobs have seen the biggest impact from COVID restrictions. They also employ large numbers of young people, who have borne the brunt of job losses.

Figures for the number of people on company payrolls show the impact clearly. Since the early days of the crisis last March, 813,000 payroll jobs have disappeared, including 355,000 in hotels, restaurants and pubs, and 171,000 in shops. During the pandemic more than half of the fall in the number of employees has been among the under-25s.

Many employers have been able to put redundancies into abeyance as a result of the extension of the furlough scheme and other business loans and initiatives, but some may have no other choice than to make redundancies in the autumn.

However, the redundancy process can place those making the redundancies in a psychological dichotomy. They understand and appreciate that business decisions have to be made, but they will have become close to and truly care about the team. They may therefore encounter a myriad of personal feelings from genuinely being upset to feelings of guilt.

Recent CIPD report findings reveal that the psychological impact on redundancy envoys is significant, with many describing the impact as a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’, experiencing a range of emotions including fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness, loneliness and shock – with guilt being the most prolific emotion encountered. 

The severe negative impact experienced during the implementation of redundancies were described by most redundancy envoys as ‘a very stressful job’ which has ‘a significant impact’ on their psychological well-being.

For some redundancy envoys the burden became untenable, which led to severe negative consequences for the individual and subsequently for the organisation.

I know from a personal point of view, despite extensive preparation, that telling employee after employee, in large- or small-scale redundancies, that their role is no longer required is so difficult. Regardless of knowing and agreeing with all the business reasons, being met with anger, tears and despair and comments such as "How will I feed my children?" can be heart-breaking. 

Whatever is said and however sympathetically it is presented, employees may often feel that the decision is personal and point the finger, saying that this devastating life changing event is all their fault, and they should have done more to prevent this outcome.

The aforementioned CIPD study concludes that businesses should have an appreciation of the negative impact and emotional rollercoaster that redundancy envoys experience.

There is often very little, or no consideration afforded to those senior managers of HR professionals sitting across the table, delivering the unwelcome news about redundancy to their teams. It is invariably just seen as part of the job, but it can have a huge impact on mental health

In these unprecedented times and with the increased volume of work and change management exercises, it has never been so important to consider the wellbeing of all employees.

So, if you are considering redundancies, it is valuable for managers who have to break bad news to be given training, such as role-playing. They can never be the same as the real thing but will leave managers better prepared.

It is also important to talk to managers about the emotions that they may face beforehand and make sure that there is a debrief session after every meeting. 

Ask the delivering manager how they are feeling about the situation at regular intervals and try and open up a conversation.

Some may be worried that any display of emotion may undermine them as a professional manager, but they are also ‘human’ and have feelings and reassure them that it is okay to feel upset.

Remember that they may have worked alongside those being made redundant for many years and it may affect them more than you realise.

2021 should be the year to provide support and help to everyone. This may be achieved by a change in approach, encouragement to talk openly about worries or concerns without fear of reproach or the opportunity to use any Employee Assistance Programme.

 

Alison Gill is head of HR at Advo