Announcing news about organisational change and subsequent redundancies is an emotional process for all parties involved. If poorly managed, how you tell people their role is redundant can have long lasting impacts on individuals, remaining staff and the organisation as a whole.
This guide outlines best practice procedures designed to increase effectiveness when making redundancies, and minimise costs to your organisation and the exiting employee. There is also advice on what to say during and after a redundancy notification meeting.
Managing how you tell people their role is redundant
From the time a decision is made to make a position redundant, holding a notification meeting with the impacted employee, through to how to best manage the announcement to remaining staff, the following advice and tips will help:
- Maintain the impacted employee’s self-esteem.
- Enable them to understand the message and reasons for the redundancy.
- Assist them to move forward as quickly and positively as possible.
- Reduce litigation risk.
- Demonstrate organisational values to protect brand and culture.
- Minimise the impact of change on remaining staff.
The manager’s role
As the manager of the impacted employee, you may be tasked with conducting a redundancy notification meeting. Your aim should be to avoid adding to their distress.
In this role, you should:
- Deliver the message in a professional and straightforward way.
- Remain calm and composed throughout the discussion.
- Respect the person involved.
- Prepare and stick to a process and script to effectively manage the meeting.
- Support remaining staff after the announcement.
Prepare for the redundancy meeting
It’s vital you prepare and practise to ensure you correctly deliver the desired information and help the person receive it accurately.
Think through how you’d like to be treated in this type of conversation and formulate goals for the redundancy notification process, for example:
- What would you like them to leave their meeting thinking about?
- What impression do you want them to have of their former employer?
What to say
Create a set of clear messages, based on an agreed corporate position, to explain why the role has been made redundant. Don’t be tempted to make your explanation less formal by moving away from this position.
Wordy and complicated messages can cause confusion and create more upheaval. Be concise and stick to the facts to provide clarity and improve the employee’s understanding about the situation.
Practise delivering your key messages or even write a redundancy meeting script. This will help you become confident and comfortable with the words, and ensure you understand and can explain the business rationale behind the change.
As people respond differently to change, prepare for various scenarios. However don’t deviate from the key messages, be consistent and confirm the decision is final.
What to cover in a redundancy meeting script
1. An introduction to the meeting
Begin by calmly and professionally greeting the employee. Introduce any other attendees, such as an HR representative, if present. Avoid small talk about the weather, colleagues or the family. Instead, get straight to the point. 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…”
2. Why the redundancy is happening
You must provide a reason as to why the organisation’s structure 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 have been made redundant”.
Emphasise there was nothing the individual could have done to change this decision.
3. What are the consequences for them
Be absolutely clear regarding their severance package, notice period and other formalities, and any outplacement support.
4. Answers to questions
Anticipate all the pushback and questions you may face from the impacted employee.
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?”
Acknowledge the individual concerns and answer their questions, where possible. Clarify what will happen to special projects or client activities.
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.”
Where the information is not available or you can’t answer their questions, keep restating the facts according to your script.
5. The separation procedure
Advise the employee about matters such as the separation timetable, returning property, IT and security matters. If applicable, discuss redeployment options and any opportunities to apply for internal positions.
6. What will happen next
Let them know what is going to happen directly after your meeting.
- if an outplacement consultant will be available to talk to them and start their career transition process.
- whether they will be able to return to their workplace or if they will be escorted off the premises immediately after the meeting.
- if they should take the rest of the day off or will be expected to continue working.
Redundancy script essentials
A clearly thought out and well written redundancy announcement script ensures you cover all of the critical information. You should include:
- the business justification for the organisational changes.
- appropriate detail on the changes and their scope.
- the fact that roles are being made redundant, not people.
- timing of redundancies (dates).
- a clear explanation of the separation procedure.
- a professional, diplomatic and compassionate close.
Manage the redundancy meeting logistics
Create as much certainty as you can around redundancy timings and logistics, with a plan and timetable.
Ideally, schedule redundancy notification meetings during the week, preferably first thing or last thing in the day. This will give the employee time to start their career transition before the weekend. Avoid Friday afternoons and before holidays. This may be convenient for you, 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 or break.
Allow sufficient time for the meeting, but don’t make it longer than it needs to be. Keep it relatively simple, brief and to the point. It is important they see the process has been thorough and done for business reasons, however don’t feel you need to keep talking.
If you are scheduling multiple meetings in one day, aim to keep each one to 30 minutes with a short buffer period. This should allow time to announce the redundancy and answer questions, and for you to have a short break before the next meeting.
Ensure everyone involved has time either side of the meetings so they are not running late, unfocused on the task in hand, or need to head to their next commitment part way through.
If you have an open plan office, or an office where everyone can see who is coming in and out, arrange instead to meet them in a private room or a quiet and confidential part of the workplace.
If you are conducting the meeting at an offsite venue, confirm its suitability in terms of privacy and location.
In the meeting room, have tissues within reach and a glass of water ready.
It is best to speak to people individually, especially if you are only laying off one or two employees.
When making multiple redundancies you may want to tell the employees as a group. However, you don’t know how they will respond. People can react strongly to losing their job and a group meeting can exacerbate negative reactions.
Bring written details related to the severance package such as long service leave, payment in-lieu, unclaimed expenses and superannuation. Liaise with your HR representative to ensure you meet all legal and corporate requirements.
When receiving distressing or stressful news, most individuals hear selectively. Providing employees with career transition information to read later can help.
Check with HR whether the impacted employee has special needs such as health issues, disabilities or language barriers, and make accommodations if required.
Confirm how the employee should return company property such as credit cards, security passes, ID, laptops, phones and vehicles.
Also, check how they can remove personal property from their desk, in a locker or in a kitchen etc.
Will they continue to have access to sensitive information, software or equipment after the redundancy notification meeting? Put in place adequate security procedures and notify key people of the employee’s departure.
If you think you may be the focus of the individual’s anger and/or sadness, consider having a senior colleague sit in the meeting. Ensure you are clear about your roles and who is going to say what.
During the meeting
Stick to the redundancy announcement script
Remember what to say when announcing the redundancy and stay on message by sticking to your script. Speak clearly, communicate at a calm and steady pace, and keep things brief.
Ensure they understand
This will be a highly-charged, emotional and challenging meeting. The employee may mishear or misinterpret clearly communicated information.
Check to see they understand what you are communicating about the redundancy, particularly if they are silent or seem in shock or emotional. Clarify any key points they may have misunderstood.
Use silence once you have delivered your messages as this enables the participant to process the news.
It’s also important to listen instead of continuously talking. Delivering bad news can be stressful, which can make you nervous and as result speak too much (and not listen enough). Practising what you want to say – ie your redundancy script – can help.
Your emotions when you tell people their role is redundant
It’s likely you will feel uncomfortable, anxious and sad about telling someone their role is redundant. 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.
You may also feel guilty or a sense of relief that it is not your role being made redundant.
Remember: even though the conversation might be emotional for you, it is about the impacted employee’s reactions not yours.
If the individual gets angry and lashes out, you may feel like the target of their anger but try to not take it personally.
Don’t attempt to make the situation better with reassurances about 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 their career 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. Acknowledge not only their feelings but also the reasons for those feelings.
Sometimes 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 making the redundancy announcement.
Watching someone’s reaction is important while giving bad news. 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.
There may be tears, there may be anger or even a refusal to accept reality. Be careful not to inhibit the expression of these feelings. Ideally, give the person time to express themselves and then move on to addressing practical issues.
While you can’t 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.
How people may react when you tell them their role is redundant
Shock and denial
People in shock may behave aggressively, calmly or not react at all.
Things they may say 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.”
Or they may say nothing, and instead stare into space and provide no response.
Check they have heard what you told them and they understand what is happening. You may need to repeat and rephrase the news. Ask questions to confirm their understanding of the situation.
If they are silent following the news, give them time to show a reaction before giving them too much further information – they may need time to comprehend what you’ve said. Before moving on, reconfirm the primary message.
Distress and panic
People often become upset and tearful, and feel anxious about their future. Sometimes they blame themselves.
Things they may say include:
- “What will I do now?”
- “How will I cope without a job?”
- “What did I do wrong?”
Be supportive by listening, and acknowledge their distress. Statements such as “I appreciate this has come as a shock” are helpful, unlike telling them you know how they feel. Don’t raise their hopes or the possibility of a reprieve regarding the redundancy decision.
When you tell people their role is redundant, give them time to process the information, calm down and regain their composure. When things are more settled, direct their attention towards any available outplacement support for their career transition.
Anger and aggression
Sometimes employees express their hurt and anxiety aggressively: physically (through a raised voice or violence), by changes in their demeanour, using obscenities, or by making threats.
Things they may say include:
- “I’m not going to accept this without a fight.”
- “Just you wait…”
- “I’m going to tell the media / the police about what this company does.”
No matter what happens or is said, try to 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 support 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 immediately.
Get help or call the police if needed. If you believe physical violence is a risk, arrange security prior to the meeting.
Another tactic used by some employees is to try to negotiate an alternative to redundancy.
Things they may say include:
- “Can I take a pay cut or reduce my hours?”
- “Can I stay on for a few more weeks?”
- “How can I change this decision?”
If they try to bargain a way of putting off the redundancy or try to negotiate staying with the organisation in a modified role, it’s likely the employee has not accepted the reality of the situation.
Explain the organisation investigated all possible alternatives. Reiterate the decision, which was not made lightly, is final. Then reinforce what the next steps are for them.
It’s important you provide them with a clear separation, and don’t give them the idea there may be an option to negotiate and stay.
Blame and misdirection
Some employees may look for an alternative reason to justify the decision, or suggest a colleague’s role may be a better candidate for redundancy.
Things they may say include:
- “This is XX’s fault, they’ve never like me.”
- “Why isn’t XX going? They never do any work.”
Don’t make it personal and blame an individual. Instead, repeat the business reasons for the change. Avoid linking the redundancy to any other issues or individuals.
If the employee storms out as soon as they are told of the redundancy or before you give them all the information, try to get them to stay by continuing the discussion. Do not try to physically restrain them.
In the current economy, redundancies are common occurrences. Often there is workplace gossip well in advance of redundancies, and not knowing is stressful for staff. When a lot of uncertainty has been present, it can be a relief for them to find out their role is being retrenched and life can move forward.
Be wary though of a pragmatic 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 responding in a socially acceptable manner. 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 news, inform them of any outplacement support that will be available to them.
After the meeting
After you tell people their role is redundant, it’s tempting to keep out of the way of others. However your remaining staff are likely to be feeling upset about the redundancies and have questions for you, so keep your door open.
Be direct and visible, answering their concerns where you can to reassure them that they can approach you with questions. If they ask questions you can’t answer or are unable to disclose information, be honest.
Avoid emotional conversations. Use the messages from your script and methods for dealing with impacted employees to manage remaining staff reactions.
Where appropriate, call teams together to communicate the reasons for the redundancies with the group. This will reduce the risk of gossip and misinformation.
Advise the wider organisation of the staffing changes and the implications of these changes for them, for example reporting lines or work scopes.
In the period after the redundancy announcement, those left behind may be affected (‘survivor syndrome‘). Watch out for signs of reduced engagement, motivation and performance.
If they leave the workplace immediately, try to follow up with the former employee after a couple of days even if they say they are fine. Send them another copy of the details of any specialist outplacement support provided, remind them of these services and make sure they know how to access them.
If they’re staying for a period of time, support them in their exit from the organisation and subsequent career transition. Where outplacement support is available, encourage them to organise their initial meeting with their coach as soon as possible to get the process started.
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. Also, give yourself enough time to unwind and recuperate after the event.
Debriefing with another manager can be helpful, to talk through the process, discuss your feelings and reflect on how it was managed.
What to remember when you tell people their role is redundant
When you tell people their role is redundant, it’s tough. It is especially hard 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 roles redundant, to ensure retrenchments are carefully and efficiently managed.
Disclaimer: This article is for general guidance only. It has been prepared without taking into account your own situation or needs. Glide Outplacement disclaims all and any guarantees, undertakings and warranties, expressed or implied, and shall not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever arising out of or in connection with any use or reliance on this information. The user must accept sole responsibility associated with the use of the information, irrespective of the purpose for which such use or results are applied. The information is no substitute for legal or financial advice.