It is the situation all leaders dread. A senior manager calls you in and announces that people in your team must be ‘let go’ and you have to deliver the message.All too often you are asked to keep it quiet until the redundancies have been announced and the final lists are signed off by HR. Even worse you are asked to take part in choosing who has to go while keeping ‘radio silence’ in the team. However, with a looming downturn, if not recession, many leaders and managers will be facing such events. So what do you do to make a bad situation as fair and dignified as possible?
Step One: Know your reasons
Every person facing redundancy will ask ‘why me?’ It is essential that you are able to give a good, solid business rationale which focuses on business pressure and never on them as a person. If facing redundancies ensure that Management, HR and other decision makers deliver a clear rationale which all team leaders can use to deliver a consistent message, such as an overall downturn in business. If everyone has the same message then people accept it is true.
All employees should be evaluated as to who should be made redundant. This could be on the basis of criteria such as ‘last-in first out’, certain roles no longer being required, or relative performance levels. It is essential that you select names at the end of this evaluation and not before.
Step Two: Have your meeting strategy ready
Most businesses prefer to manage all redundancies in one day if several people have to go. In this event it is best to have a designated room in which to meet people and an agreed way of asking them to come to the meeting. This is usually decided by HR but if not, set up your own approach with other team leaders. A typical approach is for the team leader to sit in the room and call team members on the phone with a request to come to the room. It is harsh and the message gets out into the call centre very quickly. However, people arrive in the room knowing what to expect.
Also, make sure you are very clear about who will sit in the meeting with you. Usually this role is taken by HR or senior managers. Whichever it is, ensure you are both clear about your roles and who is going to say what. You need to ensure that the process appears professional and co-ordinated. Two people fumbling over their roles and the messages will create more stress.
Step Three: Have your message ready and rehearsed
It is very important that you stay in control of the meeting and the process. This will be easier if you are very clear about your opening line and exactly what you have to say. Practise before you go in and make sure you are word perfect.
Make sure you are absolutely clear about the detail of the redundancy package, including salary owed, benefits, any support on offer, etc. You should also anticipate all the push-back and questions you may face from the person being made redundant. Have your responses ready and fine-tuned. Also have your get-out statement for questions you really cannot answer, e.g. ‘I am sorry but I do not have that information but I can ask Finance for you.’
Step Four: Prepare yourself
Being the messenger is tough and stressful. Accept that you are going to be very uncomfortable and bring to bear all your stress management techniques. Try to focus on the end point and getting through one day at a time. At the end of the day leave the office and try to do something to clear your head, whether this is a long walk or a long telephone chat with a friend it does not matter.
Remember, that when the situation is over you still have to keep managing the people left and getting extremely stressed will not help you do this. It is also useful to keep reminding yourself that you are not being malicious, you are just being a manager and that responsibility brings the tough tasks with it.
Step Five: The initial meeting
The initial meeting is generally to let the person know that they are ‘at risk’ of redundancy and that there will be a consultation process (required if there are more than 20 employees being made redundant). The initial meeting should be quite short, with more time set aside for the follow-up meeting.
When the person enters the room be kind but formal. Get straight to the point – going round the houses is agony for the other person. Be prepared for all kinds of emotion and reaction. Some people go quiet, others are angry. Some people panic and start firing ‘what can I do?’ questions at you.
A common reaction is quiet relief. Research conducted in Scotland during the downturn of the 1980s showed that people facing the prospect of redundancy were more stressed before the decision than after. At least they knew what they were dealing with when they were told.
Most important, no matter what the reaction, you cannot get emotional yourself, even if the person tries to blame you. In addition, do not allow your sympathy to lead into offers of help which you cannot deliver. One team leader known to the author offered her home number to people facing redundancy in an attempt to give them support. Six months later she was still getting calls asking her to get their jobs back or help with application writing.
Step Six: Allow discretion and dignity
Ask the person how they want to manage the rest of the day. Some people want to go back to their desk to clean up and go, others want to go straight home. A few will want to have time alone to call their partners or friends. If this is the case offer them a quiet room and a telephone. If HR has a policy of people leaving the business immediately, make sure you apply this consistently to all people. If you suspect that a person will go back to the team and cause upset, ask them to protect the team and go back to their desk with them. Make sure that you have a box of tissues ready if the person gets emotional.
After the initial meeting write to the employee notifying them of the reason for the redundancy and invite them to a follow-up meeting to discuss the matter. If possible arrange this meeting three days later.
Step Seven: The follow-up meeting
Hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the redundancy – at which the employee has the right to be accompanied. Notify the employee of the decision and the right to appeal and provide a reasonable timeframe in which the appeal must be made.
Step Eight: The appeal meeting
The purpose of the appeal meeting (if the employee wishes to appeal) is for the employee to challenge whether they have been selected fairly. The main grounds for appeal are that they have been selected unfairly (often on race, pregnancy grounds) or that the correct procedures have not been followed. The appeal meeting should take place with a representative from HR or senior management.
The employee has the right to be accompanied, typically by a colleague or a union representative. You should then inform the employee of the final decision.
Step Nine: Get back to your team and manage
Redundancy affects a whole team. People kept on will feel a range of emotions from relief to anger to guilt. They may be resentful and they will certainly have questions. A good manager gets the team together and delivers clear communication about the situation and who will be leaving.
The same business rationale set out in Step One needs to be delivered to the team to ensure that there is a consistent message. Answer team questions but avoid getting into any discussion about the people who have been made redundant. It is up to them to disclose what they wish and they have to be given all the privacy they choose to take.
Finally, get your team refocused on work. Explain to them that they need to pull together and fight on through. Make the economy the enemy to beat and get people fighting back.
Gwenllian Williams is a director of deWinton-Williams Consulting. Contact her on 0207 372 4997 or through www.dewinton-williams.com