When the going gets tough…

…line
managers become the bearers of bad news. Richard Chiumento looks at how to
equip them with the necessary skills for this role

Losing
a job is ranked by the British Medical Association as one of the most common
causes of stress. The redundancy announcement invariably causes trauma not just
for the individuals personally affected, but also for the staff left behind.

Too
often, it is the people on the floor and the line managers who end up having to
cope with the negative emotions redundancy creates in the workplace. They can
find themselves unprepared to deal with these trials, and need support for this
important role they play.

It
is the HR and training departments’ responsibility to brief line managers to
help them take charge at all stages of the redundancy process.

Redundancy
is a hugely emotive process, and it incites a wide range of questions and
demands from individuals affected. Coaching line managers to anticipate these
demands and understand the emotional turmoil experienced, will help them deal
effectively with the individuals involved.

Step
1: Breaking the news

The
first phase of redundancy is the announcement. Regardless of who actually
breaks the news, it needs input from line managers to understand whether the
redundant individual is particularly vulnerable. Some employees may require
special support and care. For example, an employee with a history of depression
or financial problems, or who has recently been through a divorce or
experienced bereavement, may be more likely to react adversely to redundancy.
Line managers are a source of staff information that may be unknown to senior
managers and so should liaise with them.

The
initial objective is to enable the employee to come to terms with their
selection as quickly as possible. The actual meeting itself requires careful
planning, and has its own set of rules and guidelines. People need to be taken
to a quiet room, preferably one where the other staff cannot see who is
entering or leaving.

They
need to be succinctly given the facts, along with a reason for their selection.
The discussion should be formal, but conducted with sympathy and understanding.
The initial briefing should be no more than a few minutes as there is only so
much information that the person will take in at that moment.

The
key information they must be told at this stage is:


When redundancy takes effect


Period of notice


Leaving date

Step
2: Handling emotions

What
does a person do immediately after being told they have been selected for
redundancy? Are they expected to return to work and carry on as usual? The role
of the line manger is crucial when it comes to post-announcement care, known as
‘pick-up counselling’.

Following
the announcement, the employee will react in one of two ways:


Be very quiet, while wanting to get the discussion over with as quickly as
possible


Want to talk about it

Line
managers must be prepared to deal with both reactions. The quiet person needs
to be given time for the information to sink in. Those who want to talk about
it need answers to their concerns then and there.

Step
3: Why me?

Redundancy
is a senior management decision, and the employee will often pressure their
line manager for an insight into the reasons behind their selection. This desire
for further knowledge arises from their need to understand and justify the ‘why
me’ redundancy factor.

This
is a difficult question for anyone to answer satisfactorily, but the employee
still needs to be listened to and gently reassured.

An
opportunity to vent emotion is important for the employee to come to terms with
their redundancy and move on, so managers must be prepared for any such
outbursts as well.

Step
4: What next?

As
the employee’s day-to-day contact manager, the onus is on the line manager to
answer questions about ‘what next’. Staff are often more comfortable voicing
individual concerns to the manager they know rather than to senior management,
so line managers should be fully briefed on the separation package offered by
the company. The golden rule is maximum information with minimum delay.

Step
5: Career counselling

Following
the announcement of redundancy, the employee needs to be encouraged by their
managers to consider the next stage of their career. This phase is often
referred to as ‘taking stock’, and is a time of self-exploration and
evaluation. The employee needs to consider the following questions concerning
their wants and needs:


Do I want to do the same job again?


Can I do the same job again?


What do I want to do now?


What other options are available for me?


What skills do I have?


What do I need to do to achieve my career goals?

Line
managers again play an important role in this stage of the redundancy process.
As the first point of contact for employees seeking advice, it is essential
they listen and have the confidence to encourage this initial instinct for
evaluation.

More
critically, it is often the line manager’s responsibility to coax employees who
are reluctant to seek advice, to do so. The overwhelming emotion attached to job
loss is fear, and those who experience fear also experience a sense of despair
over their employability.

This
is a common reaction among employees made redundant from the manufacturing
sector. The British manufacturing industry has been subject to wide-scale
redundancies during the last few years. Many of these workers walked into their
jobs, and may not appreciate their transferable skills. Factory work is all
they know. Faced with a shrinking manufacturing sector and increasingly fierce
competition for the remaining jobs, the prospect of actively seeking
alternative employment can be terrifying.

The
line manager’s job is logistical, yet essential. They need to motivate their
staff to proactively work through their job loss. This could involve becoming an
active ambassador for any outplacement services available. Line managers can
give such centres the endorsement they require.

Alternatively,
in cases where outplacement services are not available on site, line managers
should offer information to staff on how they can help themselves. For example,
where their nearest careers centre is.

Step
6: Rebuilding trust

The
final role the line manager plays is in survivor management – reassuring the
staff who are left behind, as redundancy affects them too.

Chiumento
research shows that they experience an increased sense of insecurity and doomed
inevitability towards their future at the company. Many of their friends may
have been made redundant, and they are often left feeling shocked, angry and
anxious, leading to an organisation of demotivated and unhappy staff.

Immediately
following the announcement, line managers are often to be found acting as a
reconciliatory force between senior management and staff. In charge of the
day-to-day working environment, the onus is on the line manager to rebuild the
trust of retained staff and motivate them to work hard for the company.

Underpinning
all these roles is a vital skill required by every successful line manager –
management competency. Proof then, that if an organisation is willing to invest
in the training and development of managers at all levels, it will reap the
benefits during difficult times.

Bringing
in outplacement consultants and trained HR professionals is vital to the
management of redundancy, but they can only work with the shopfloor culture
they inherit.

Top
tips for exit interviews

Do…
state the facts and give a clear reason for the decision

Do…
see employees in order of their seniority

Do…
keep the discussion formal but conduct it with sympathy and understanding

Do…
address the employee using their Christian name

Do…
be prepared to respond to questions

Do…
allow for an emotional response from the employee

Don’t…
allow any interruptions

Don’t…
hold the meeting late Friday afternoon

Don’t…
let the discussion run on for more than 20 minutes

Don’t…
lose control of the discussion

Don’t…
force the employee to stay, allow them to leave with dignity

Don’t…
allow vulnerable people to leave distressed

Don’t…
forget the survivors

Richard
Chiumento is CEOof HR consultancy Chiumento  www.chiumento.co.uk

Comments are closed.