Handling redundancies with sensitivity

The latest unemployment figures revealed by the ONS are at a two-year high, sadly expected and unfortunately an indicator of harsher times to come. With the end of the furlough scheme looming, and uncertainty about the details of the chancellor’s job support scheme, we are likely to see more organisations making redundancies.

The impacts of this pandemic have put greater pressure on HR leaders than ever before, being looked to by both anxious employees and leadership teams alike. This is a pressure cooker of a situation, and there’s never been a greater need than now to handle any redundancy with sensitivity.

In order to achieve this across the business, there are some important pointers to remember.

Put the human in HR

HR teams are involved in consultation meetings and what can be difficult conversations, often multiple times a day; all of which require emotional intelligence, resilience and empathy. The best HR professionals are not robots, it’s knowing how, where, when and to whom they share their feelings with that is key.

Being prepared for these feelings to surface, acknowledging that they exist and that it’s OK for them to do so can help HR teams to support themselves and others.

Further reading:

What should HR know about mass redundancies?

Legal-ease: What HR needs to know about returning from furlough

Back to life, back to (a new) reality: the workplace after furlough

Provide as much support as possible with their career transition

It should be best practice to offer outplacement support to those being made redundant. Whether it’s specialist services for your most senior executives, or CV and interview help.

From my own experience, I have noticed the difference between those who are offered support and those who aren’t.

If you’re trying to get buy-in from the board on offering these services, remember that not only is it the right thing to do, but it speaks volumes to your employer brand as you demonstrate a strong duty of care even up until the end of someone’s employment.

This allows the exiting employee to focus on the positive aspects of what’s next and helps them to have a much more constructive end of working relationship with the employer.

Take care of the employees left behind

“Survivor syndrome” describes the impact of redundancies on the remaining staff who kept their jobs. In the same way that people that have lost their jobs experience a range of emotions, so too do those that remain.

For most, the initial feeling is one of relief, but this can soon give way to anger at the loss of their colleagues and friends, worry about future redundancies, resentment at picking up the workload and responsibility left by those that have gone, and occasionally envy at a missed opportunity a redundancy payment can offer.

If not properly managed and quickly addressed, these feelings can quickly lead to a spiralling dip in motivation, engagement and productivity.

Our research conducted this year highlights this. The HRDs we spoke with were asked about the immediate impact following redundancies. Almost a third (30%) said morale was immediately reduced, over a quarter (28%) noted immediate speculation and gossip, and one fifth became aware of remaining employees openly looking for other jobs.

Take care of yourself

Finally, in order to handle redundancies with sensitivity it’s imperative that you look after yourself and your wider team to ensure you’re in the best possible position to make sure that others are OK.

There are several ways to achieve this; having regular check-ins, 1:1s, encouraging regular breaks and giving the team a safe space to express their feelings. It’s the classic case of applying your own oxygen mask first.

Laura Welsh is head of HR UK & Ireland, LHH