If you are a business owner, employer, manager or HR person who is ever likely to have the tough responsibility of making someone redundant, this article is for you.
It includes some suggestions on what not to do when implementing redundancies, from the perspective of a psychologist and outplacement services provider who regularly helps people through the redundancy process.
And also from the perspective of those individuals who’ve shared their stories, frustrations, and negative experiences over the years.
To help you understand my role in these situations, I’m the person who is often sent into the room right after an employee has been told about their redundancy – to help them process the news, handle their emotions, and figure out what to do next.
I’m also the person who provides them with practical and emotional support in the coming days, weeks, and months while they navigate their way forward and attempt to find a new job.
As you can imagine, I’ve seen people react in all sorts of different ways when given the news about their redundancy. Some are angry, many are sad, many are shocked, and some are even happy.
I also get to see the ways in which people’s emotions change and shift over time while I’m working with them to find a new job. And oh boy – can their emotions change!
People can very quickly go from anxious, to sad, to confident, to doubtful, and back to anxious again. A lot of people describe the experience as an ‘emotional rollercoaster’.
“People can very quickly go from anxious, to sad, to confident, to doubtful… and back to anxious again.”
Many have talked about the fact that from an emotional perspective, redundancy is often very similar to the grieving process.
As you’d also expect, there are LOTS of different factors that influence the reactions you’ll get when making someone redundant – both at that early stage when they’ve only just been given the news, and in the longer term.
Now, here is where you come into the equation…
One of those factors is YOU. Their employer. And more specifically, how you as their employer handle the whole situation.
You have the ability to make a massive difference in helping people to cope as effectively as possible with what can often be one of the biggest personal and professional challenges they’ll face.
Sure – some people will bounce back really quickly and end up in a better, more exciting position within a few weeks. And some people will seem really happy about the redundancy, or relieved at the opportunity to move on from a job that wasn’t really a good ‘fit’ for them anyway.
Redundancy can be hard. It can shatter someone’s confidence and make them suddenly question their abilities, their skills, and their value as a professional. It often means the sudden loss of relationships with colleagues and team members, and takes away the sense of meaning and accomplishment that is so important for human well-being and happiness.
Even for those who are generally pretty confident in themselves, redundancy can be really hard.
And for you as an employer, making someone redundant is also hard. Of course it is – I get that.
So this advice is being shared not only on behalf of the individuals who are about to receive the bad news, but also to make things easier for you.
Here are 7 things we’d suggest you DON’T do if you want to look after your people during this difficult time, and provide the respect, compassion and support they deserve.
#1 - Don’t make assumptions about people’s likely reactions.
Don’t assume that you know how someone is going to respond to the news. Don’t assume they’ll be fine, or they were probably expecting the news anyway. Or the redundancy payout will make them happy. My experience suggests that employers quite often ‘miss the mark’ when it comes to predicting the reactions of different individuals.
Rather than making assumptions, simply focus on ensuring that you treat individuals in a fair, compassionate, and respectful manner, and that you are ready to provide whatever support is needed.
#2 - Don’t make people feel like criminals.
Don’t treat your employee like a criminal by immediately assuming that they are going to steal all of the company’s clients, raid the stationery cupboard, or ‘bad mouth’ you to competitors and clients.
I’ve found that most employees understand the company’s need for them to hand back laptops and phones, and refrain from logging into their emails. And obviously in some organisations this is critically important given the sensitive nature of company information or data. But this can always be managed in a dignified, respectful way, rather than in a way that makes your employees feel as though they’ve done something wrong and suddenly can’t be trusted.
#3 - Don’t assume working mothers will “enjoy more time with the kids.”
I’ve known a few highly ambitious working Mums whose employers tried to ‘sell’ the benefits of a redundancy with this line.
Many working mothers need to work. Many also thoroughly enjoy their jobs, and are extremely focused on pursuing a career despite having given birth to a child or two. Some manage to hold on to their sanity as a result of the fact that going to work gives them an opportunity to “drink tea, eat lunch, have a conversation and go to the toilet uninterrupted”, as Emma Sorensen writes in this article.
And quite frankly, this assumption plays right into stereotypes, and might just make someone a little angrier that they would have been otherwise.
#4 - Don’t provide an unclear or ambiguous ‘end date’.
Don’t tell someone they are being made redundant … but you’ll decide on their finish date later. Or keep changing and extending the date to suit your own needs. This is unfair. One thing we know about the human brain is that it doesn’t like change and uncertainty. And this gives people a massive dose of uncertainty about what they need to do next and when they need to do it.
From a very practical perspective it also makes it really difficult for them to move on and start looking for a new job, because they don’t know when they’ll finish up. Put yourself in your employee’s shoes and think about the level of certainty and information that you would want in their situation.
“Redundancies affect people. And people are human, with real emotions, needs, and personal circumstances to deal with.”
#5 - Don’t make your employee redundant and then say “Would you mind doing us a favour by sticking around until we finish up this project?”
This one is a real ‘pet hate’ for me, as it seems to happen all too often. And I always find myself wondering how employers can’t understand the impact this can have on someone. Think about it for a moment … essentially, you are giving them a message that says something like this:
“Hey there Mary! I know we made you redundant and everything, but it would be really convenient for us if you could just hang around until we’ve delivered all of that work. You know, the work we’re saying isn’t really necessary anymore, which is why you are being made redundant?”
This is unfair. And inevitably results in your employee feeling angry. Or annoyed. Or confused. Or some other not-so-nice emotion. Maybe not right away, but probably at some point.
Again, this also makes it really hard for the person to move on, as they end up stuck in a situation where it becomes really difficult to work out how to effectively ‘time’ their job search activities.
Do they start looking for a new job now, or later? If they start looking now, what happens if they find something right away? Can they leave even through the project isn’t finished? Will they still get their redundancy pay? On the other hand, if they wait a while to start looking for a new job, it might end up taking them longer than expected to find something. So when should they start looking? Now, or later? Again – this can create additional stress and uncertainty.
#6 - Don’t make people keep their redundancy a secret.
Especially if they are working out a notice period, and consequently need to spend every day at work pretending everything is ‘normal’. I worked with a woman who was made to do this for months on end, resulting in a significant toll on her mental health. Her colleagues were questioning her absence every time she attended one of our career transition sessions, and she was unable to seek any support at all within the organisation.
Obviously this might be required in the immediate term (e.g. if a group of people are being made redundant on the same day), but once this time period has passed, allow people the opportunity to draw upon their support networks. They are going to need support. Let them get the help they need, and foster transparency.
#7 - Don’t make people redundant on a Friday afternoon.
Or right before the holidays. Or any time where there’s a chance that they’ll end up alone and without support for an extended period of time. A lot of employers choose a Friday afternoon because it seems to make sense, but in fact this can pose a risk for some people. In fact, at least half of the time I spend with individuals who’ve just been given the news involves assessing their likely level of support when they get home, and evaluating any potentials risks based on this. This is a really important factor to consider.
One of the key messages here is that redundancies affect people. And people are human, with real emotions, needs, and personal circumstances to deal with. Some people might have spent more time in their workplace than they have anywhere else, including their homes. Don’t assume you know how they will react, because you don’t. In fact, neither do they, until it happens.
Always remember the ‘human element’ of redundancy and you’ve got a much better chance of ensuring that your organisation doesn’t become one of those employers we hear awful stories about.
Leisa Molloy is a business psychologist and career development specialist with a passion for helping people to flourish. She is the founder of Flourishing Minds Consulting and one of the course instructors of the online Successfully Navigating Redundancy: A Practical, Step-By-Step Guide program. For a confidential discussion about the Career Transition & Outplacement services provided by Flourishing Minds Consulting, contact us on (03) 8669 1691.