Making people redundant will never be an easy or enjoyable process, but with a bit of forward planning and care it can at least be handled correctly and be as painless as possible.
Announcing news about organisational change and subsequent redundancies is an emotional process for all parties involved. To avoid adding to the distress of the affected employee on hearing the news, managers need to take a professional, respectful and compassionate approach to the task. These are difficult conversations, but you can at least make a bad situation considerably better for your employees.
Whether you’re their boss, line manager or human resources manager, you have to manage this process right. Making someone redundant can have a long-lasting impact on individuals and the organisation as a whole.
Prepare for the redundancy meeting
It’s not an easy task to deliver a redundancy notice. If you’re charged with making people redundant, it’s vital you prepare and practise to ensure you correctly deliver the desired information and help the person receive it accurately.
Develop a communication strategy for the redundancy process, based on the business rationale for organisational change. Approaching the conversation with a clear strategy will enable you to plan for possible scenarios. Formulate your goals for the process, for example what would you like the retrenched employee to leave the notification meeting thinking about? What impression do you want them to have of their employer? Think through how you would like to be treated in this type of conversation.
Create a set of clear messages, based on an agreed corporate position, to explain why a role has been made redundant. Consistency is key – don’t be tempted to make the redundancy process less formal by moving away from this position.
Wordy and complicated messages will only cause confusion and create more upheaval. Be concise and stick to the facts to provide clarity and improve understanding about the situation.
Practise delivering your keys messages or even write a script. This will help you become confident and comfortable with the words. It will ensure you understand and can explain the business rationale behind the organisational change.
As people respond differently to change, prepare for various scenarios. However don’t deviate from the key messages. Be consistent and confirm the redundancy decision is final.
Remember to speak clearly and slowly, and avoid using jargon. Get straight to the point, quickly. Use an empathetic transition statement such as:
- “I am sorry to be giving you this news…”
- “There’s no easy way to tell you this…”
What you should cover in the meeting
Three key elements to cover in your explanation when making people redundant include:
1. Why the redundancy is happening
You must provide a reason as to why the organisation is changing. This is an important part in helping someone understand why their role is being made redundant.
Regardless of an employee’s performance, disciplinary record, popularity, length of employment or any other matter, it is the position that is redundant, not the person.
Use terms such as “your role has been retrenched” rather than “you’ve been made redundant”. This helps clarify the fact that the decision was based on business reasons, and not personal issues. Emphasise there was nothing the individual could have done to change this decision.
2. What are the consequences for them
Be clear regarding the detail of the person’s severance package, notice period and other formalities, and outplacement support. Provide written information which the employee can take with them to read later.
Anticipate all the push-back and questions you may face from the person being made redundant. Think through the answers you will give. It may be worthwhile to check your answers with your legal advisor.
Be prepared to answer questions such as:
- “Why me?”
- “How will I tell my family?”
- “What will happen to the project I was working on?”
- “When will I get paid?”
- “Who made this decision?”
- “Can I stay till the end of the week?”
Some questions you may not be able to answer, so prepare a response statement for these. For example “I am sorry, I do not have that information but I can ask Finance for you.”
3. What will happen next
Let them know what is going to happen directly after your notification meeting. For example:
- If an outplacement consultant will talk to them.
- Whether they will be able to return to their workplace or if they will be escorted off the premises.
- If they should take the rest of the day off or continue working.
Manage the meeting logistics
It is vital you take the time to speak to and inform the people being made redundant before the rest of the world. Employees will be extremely unhappy to learn about job losses via another source.
Create as much certainty as you can around redundancy timings and logistics, with a plan and timetable. Ensure those involved in notification meetings have plenty of time either side of these meetings so they are not running late, unfocused on the task in hand or need to head to their next meeting half way through.
It is best to speak to people individually, especially if you are only laying off one or two employees.
If a number of people are being made redundant, you might decide to tell them as a group. However, you don’t know how they will respond. People can react strongly to losing their job and these negative reactions can be exacerbated in a group setting.
Arrange the termination meeting early in the week, preferably first thing or last thing in the day. Do not arrange to meet them on a Friday afternoon. This may be convenient for your workflow, but for the employee it is the worst time as they won’t be able to contact recruitment agencies or potential employers until after the weekend.
Allow sufficient time for the redundancy meeting, but keep it relatively simple, brief and to the point. It is important they see that the process has been thorough and has been done for business reasons. However don’t feel that you need to keep talking and giving a lot of information.
Do you have an open plan office, or one where everyone can see who is coming in and out? Arrange instead to meet them in a private room or a more quiet and confidential part of the office to deliver the retrenchment news.
Bring all relevant paperwork and any useful information related to what happens next. When information of a distressing or stressful nature is given, most individuals hear selectively and might not retain all of the information verbally given. Providing employees with written information about their redundancy, career transition support and severance package to read later is helpful.
If you think you might be the focus of their anger/sadness, consider having the support of another senior colleague in the meeting. Usually this role is taken by HR or senior managers. Whoever it is, ensure you are clear about your roles and who is going to say what. The process needs to appear professional and coordinated.
Your emotions when making people redundant
It’s likely you will feel uncomfortable, anxious and sad about the task. These are all understandable emotions. You are about to deliver difficult news that will have a major impact on someone’s life, plus you probably aren’t sure how they will react to this news. You may also feel guilty or have a sense of relief that it is not you being made redundant.
Remember: even though the conversation might be emotional for you, it is about their reactions not yours.
If the employee gets angry and lashes out, you might feel like the target of their anger but try to not take it personally.
Although you might think it will be helpful, don’t attempt to make the situation better with reassurances about the number of available job openings and how easily they will find another job. Instead focus on delivering the redundancy notice, allowing time for the information to sink in and then offering help with the transition.
Allow the employee to vent emotion, whether this is anger, tears or silence, without becoming emotional yourself. Be empathetic but stay neutral and in control. It’s also important to listen instead of continuously talking – delivering bad news can be stressful, which can make you nervous and as a result speak too much (and not listen enough). Practising what you want to say can help. And acknowledge not only their feelings but also the reasons for those feelings.
Their possible reactions to job loss
There is no knowing how someone will react to bad news. Human behaviour is unpredictable – people respond with different concerns and individual emotions. There could also be a difference between your expectations of the employee’s behaviour and the actual behaviour displayed when delivering the redundancy notice.
Watching someone’s reaction is very important while making people redundant. By observing body language or extent of eye contact, you can assess their level of understanding and acceptance of what you’re saying as well their emotional responses.
You should be prepared for the employee to act emotionally at first, although for some people it can take time, perhaps days, before the news sinks in. Faced with the news of their retrenchment, there might be tears, there might be anger or even a refusal to accept reality. Be careful not to inhibit the expression of these feelings – allow them to express themselves and then move on to addressing practical issues.
While you cannot be sure what reactions you are going to get, you can manage how you will respond in the meeting. Although you have to remain professional, you can be compassionate when telling someone they’ve lost their job and be respectful of how difficult it might be for them.
Some possible emotional responses are:
Shock and denial
People in shock may behave aggressively, calmly or not react at all. Things they may say about their retrenchment include:
- “I don’t believe you.”
- “This can’t be happening.”
- “You’re kidding me?”
- “But I’ve worked here for years.”
- “I’ve only just started a new project.”
Another common response following the news is silence. Give them time to show a reaction before giving them too much further information – they may need time to comprehend what you’ve said. Check they have heard what you told them and they understand what is happening. You may need to repeat and rephrase the news.
Distress and panic
People often become upset and tearful, and feel anxious about their future:
- “What will I do now?”
- “How will I cope without a job?”
Acknowledge their distress – statements such as “I appreciate this has come as a shock” are helpful, but avoid telling them you know how they feel. Don’t apologise or blame someone, and do not raise their hopes or possibility of a reprieve.
Give them plenty of time to process the information, and to calm down and regain their composure. When things are more settled, direct their attention towards the outplacement support available to help them to transition.
Anger and aggression
Sometimes employees express their hurt and anxiety aggressively, either physically (through a raised voice), by changes in their demeanour or by making threats such as “I’m not going to accept this without a fight.”
No matter what happens or is said, remain calm and keep your composure. Do not get drawn into an argument, or debate the finality of the decision. Let the employee vent their anger and look for opportunities to inform them of the outplacement assistance available to them.
In most cases they will calm down after their initial outburst. But if you feel uncomfortable or in danger, stop the meeting and leave the room.
Another tactic used by employees to avoid losing their job is to try to negotiate, for example asking:
- “Can I take a pay cut or reduce my hours?” or
- “Can I stay on for a few more weeks?”
If they start to try to bargain a way of putting off the redundancy or staying with the company in some modified role, it’s likely the employee has not accepted the reality of the situation.
Explain that the company investigated all possible alternatives. Reiterate that the decision, which was not made lightly, is final.
Redundancies in the current economy are common occurrences. Often there is office gossip well in advance of people being made redundant, and not knowing is stressful for staff. In these circumstances, when a lot of uncertainty has been present, it can be a relief to find out. It probably isn’t a surprise – they may have been expecting to hear about layoffs. They may be relieved that finally a decision has been made and things can move forward.
Be wary though of a pragmatic or indeed no reaction. Although the person appears to have everything under control, it may be a red flag they are in fact in denial of the situation or shocked about the news and behaving in a ‘socially acceptable manner’ in response. The danger is they will eventually crack and become distressed.
It’s still important to ensure they have heard the message and understood what was said before they leave the office. Even though they may seem to be calmly accepting the redundancy news, inform them of the outplacement support that will be available to them.
After the meeting
After delivering bad news, it’s tempting to keep out of the way. However your remaining staff are likely to be feeling upset about the redundancies and have questions for you, so keep your door open. Be visible and answer their concerns where you can, to reassure them that they can approach you with questions.
If you can, follow up with the former employee after a couple of days even if they say they are fine. Provide them with a hard copy of the details of the outplacement support provided, remind them of these career transition services and make sure they know how to access them.
Take care of yourself
Managing a redundancy process is an extremely stressful task and you may experience a range of feelings such as concern, pity, relief, loss and anger before, during and after the retrenchments. It is important to be aware of this pressure and to be resilient. Don’t be afraid to ask your employer for support. Give yourself enough time to unwind and recuperate after the event.
De-briefing with another manager can also be helpful, to talk through the process, discuss your feelings and reflect on how it was managed.
Key points to remember
Making people redundant is tough, especially when the information you’re communicating can have a devastating impact on someone.
- Approach the notification meeting with a clear strategy.
- Prepare and practise what you’re going to say.
- Explain the rationale for the decision.
- Beat around the bush – get straight to the point.
- Stop people expressing their emotions – listen to what they say.
- Lose your composure – remain calm and compassionate.
For more information about redundancy processes, download a copy of the Redundancy Checklist – a guide for HR managers and employers. This good practice guide recommends a series of steps to making people redundant, to ensure retrenchments are carefully and efficiently managed.
Glide Outplacement’s tailored outplacement services provide career transition support following individual or large-scale redundancies. We provide practical and emotional support to engage employees in effective job search activities while treating them with dignity and respect. We have experienced outplacement consultants across Australia, including Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.