Employment rates continue to rise, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, but while that’s good news for British business on paper, the scare stories about rising redundancies make for a completely different read.
If it’s not the knock-on effects of bailing out Northern Rock and Bear Stearns, then it’s job losses at large financial institutions. And it’s not just the City – predictions suggest retail and leisure sectors may be next to feel the hit.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research increased its City redundancy forecast from 6,500 redundancies to 10,000 and credit firm Experian expects the 350,000-strong City workforce to reduce by 20,000 this year.
With the stage set for doom and gloom all round, it must be remembered that for employees facing redundancy it can be a very unsettling and upsetting time. We all know of people who have said that redundancy was the best thing that ever happened to them, enabling them to jump ship and start a new career, enjoy early retirement or start their own businesses, but initial reactions are often far from this.
Before employees get to that stage there is the natural panic and fear that the word redundancy raises. Here employers have an opportunity to get it right – or very wrong. Every organisation would surely want to avoid the situations seen in France recently, where disgruntled employees have expressed their fear and anger over job cuts in the most extreme of ways.
Take the Unilever-owned ice cream factory in the eastern city of St Dizier where employees took their British manager hostage having been told of 250 job cuts, or the Michelin tyre factory in north-eastern France, where workers held managers hostage after an announcement that the plant would close.
There have also been myriad reports about how employers have added insult to injury by informing employees that they are likely to be made redundant by video conference or, worse still, by text message.
As we increasingly value employer brand and take a more sympathetic approach to employee wellbeing, these situations should and can be avoided.
In Penna’s experience, the bulk of redundancies are with young people who are in their second or third jobs, but who are facing redundancy for the first time. Most of them are looking to jump straight back into work, with a few also looking to take the opportunity of redundancy to consider working for themselves.
In the past there was often only ‘tea and sympathy’ supplied, with little more on offer than help to update a CV and maybe some interview practice. Those days are gone and responsible employers now offer much more, even to the point of actively working with employees facing redundancy to help them to find new jobs.
Organisations can provide all sorts of support, from one-to-one coaching sessions, seminars and workshops, networking advice and opportunities, online job search tools, advice on self-employment and consultancy and office facilities from which to job-hunt.
Experience has shown that most people facing redundancy just want another job, unless they are retiring or starting their own businesses. But few people really stop to consider the skills they have picked up, either in their careers so far or through hobbies and other personal activities. Adding coaching sessions to the outplacement or career transition helps people to identify wider opportunities.
For instance, in one coaching session, a middle manager from a financial background discovered that he really enjoyed using his interpersonal skills, in particular his work as a scout leader. In fact he enjoyed this much more than his office job. As a result, he was able to widen his job search and take these skills into account to look for something that gave him greater interaction with people.
In another case a senior engineer was happy to be made redundant because he was bored at work and would benefit from a good pay off. He wanted to find a job that combined his love of the outdoors with continuing to learn and earn. After a coaching session he took a job with the Environment Agency where he could combine his engineering skills with his outdoor interests. This eventually led him to what he describes as his perfect job – he is now a park ranger with the Wildlife Trust.
Employers who support staff through the redundancy process can help them to seize life-changing opportunities. Every business has customers and a disgruntled ex-employee could damage the employer brand, while an employee who has been helped by their organisation into a new and satisfying job will no doubt describe this when talking to others.
But it’s not just about winning brownie points with potential customers: organisations should also be thinking about prospective employees. In this time of a skills crisis, businesses should be doing everything they can to leave the door open for returners and to persuade others that their company is a place to develop a career. Headlines about workers taking the management hostage are not going to achieve that.
- Ensure that employees are told that their roles are being considered for redundancy in the most sensitive and respectful way possible.
- Make the communication clear. This will help to quell the ‘coffee-machine’ gossips. Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
- Equip managers with the skills to have potentially difficult conversations about changes in the workplace.
- Provide a second opportunity, possibly the next day, for one-to-one conversations. Anyone being told they are being considered for redundancy will be upset and initially unable to absorb all the details.
- Support any conversations with written materials that employees can look over at their leisure and share with friends and family.
- Be as transparent as possible. Explain why the role is to go and, if possible, provide reassurance that opportunities for employment elsewhere in the business will be considered. However, do not create false hope.
- Consider bringing in a consultancy to provide specialist support for employees, some of whom you may want to welcome back in the future.
- Provide space within the workplace for employees to meet with coaches and other careers advisors.
- Allow employees time during the working day to prepare for a new role – from getting their CVs in order to using the Internet to research potential employers.
- Don’t forget those who are left behind. While they may be relieved to escape redundancy they will feel unsettled seeing colleagues go. Taking care of those leaving will reduce the impact on those who remain.
Our expert: Beverley White is chief operating officer of HR services group Penna. She heads the career transition division where she works with the country’s leading companies on how to manage redundancy programmes.