· 2 min read · News


What it did: clothing retailer (still operational on the Continent)

Number of ex-employees (UK): 5,000

Business closures are becoming more commonplace as the economy takes casualties. But what exactly happens when a company sheds jobs or even closes down altogether?

C&A was opened in 1922 by brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer. The company quickly grew in size and store number and there were soon 122 stores employing almost 5,000 staff. But after 80 years of UK trading, the owners decided to close the doors of the UK branches and laid off a shocked workforce with six months notice. The last store closed in May 2001.

Keeping everyone informed of developments at every juncture

When the news broke, maintaining staff morale was a priority as things were wound down. Former director of communications at C&A Chris Williams told Human Resources: In order to avoid rumours and panic being spread we had to keep everyone informed of developments at every juncture. The initial task was telling staff what was going to happen; after that our ultimate goal was to get everyone a better job. If you have to close down, you have to do it in the very best way possible to minimise damage to individuals.

The company set up a website to keep staff informed of what was happening every step of the way. C&A also helped employees with cv writing and they were offered training, increasing their chances of finding new employment. C&A established a wish-list of features to be incorporated into the website, such as a job-share page and a bulletin board.

When I came up with the idea I said this is how much it will cost and youll be paying for it for two to three years after the company has closed, explains Williams. We were working very closely with corporate communications and HR. If the company was going to continue operating in an efficient way, we had to keep people very, very involved. There was a hard copy [newsletter] going out about exactly what was happening.

Boosting confidence with good news stories

Williams says he tried to circulate good news stories so that peoples confidence was boosted as their colleagues found jobs. How do you make a company successful when everybodys been dismissed? Ive heard stories of staff hearing that they are going to be made redundant via the van driver. We decided it was very important that we avoided that sort of thing. If theres a gap in peoples information, they will fill it with bad rather than good news.

C&A wanted to carry out a proper consultation says Williams. Various groups in the firm asked staff what their considerations were and the findings were fed back to HR. Some of the things we were able to respond to in a positive way and some we were not, says Williams

He gives the example of how, when calculating the redundancy packages, it emerged that some workers, who would have had their final redundancy package decided on the basis of contracted hours (but who regularly worked 10-15 hours a week overtime) were worried that their extra hours were not being taken into account. This was duly redressed and their final packages were decided on the basis of the average number of hours worked. People at the sharp end were being listened to, sums up Williams. It happens rarely but it is extremely important and it benefits all those involved.