Redundancies are tough. Tough on those being made redundant, tough on business leaders making the decisions, tough on managers having the conversations, and tough on those who remain employed.  No one wants it to happen.  No one wanted Covid-19 to happen.  In this process it is incumbent on employers to demonstrate care and compassion as the organisation goes through a very painful process.

Communications are a central tool in this process, and at all times employers have to stay focussed on two audiences, those who are leaving and those who are staying. Those who keep their jobs will judge the company and its leaders on how well it treats those who are leaving.  All communications should be open, as transparent as possible about the situation, show empathy and reflect the mood of the staff. Employers should manage the redundancies to the best of their ability and resources. It is not solely about money, though employers should aim to be generous, but also about the support provided. Consider what additional upskilling can be made available to improve people’s job opportunities, how can you improve confidence in job search, take time to talk to other employers in the sector and locally to see if they could employ some individuals, and find a way to mark the departure of employees.

Openness and transparency in communications also help to build trust among those who are staying, they know an employer cannot guarantee job security. In many cases, they are also likely to be hurting from pay cuts. Attention now has to shift to strong positive communications that focus on getting  employees behind the business performance that will help to secure the future of the company. 

There are five steps to take to rebuild engagement:

  • First, focus on purpose.  Help employees to reconnect with the aim and purpose of the business, both financial and societal. Talk about this as it is the common thread that will help to unite and engage employees and provide meaning to the work of those who remain.
  • Second, build collaboration around clear short term goals. Have a dialogue about what the business must achieve in the next 6 and 12 months for its survival and growth.  Articulate one or two big company-wide goals, make them very visible and continually report on progress.  This helps individuals to have something to focus on and to see the impact of their combined effort.
  • Third, engage staff in the restructuring process.  Once employees have been let go, ways of working and processes have to be reconfigured.  Involve employees in this, give ownership as much as possible and let staff reimagine how processes can be simplified.  In such a restructure, skill gaps will emerge as expertise will have been lost to the business. It is important to invest in developing the remaining employees to fill the emerging skill gaps, improve their future employability as well as creating future leaders. Development should become a core activity, and it may mean seeking out creative solutions where there are financial constraints.
  • Fourth, ensure managers are having conversations with their teams about what has happened.  It is important to recognise that people are likely to upset when picking up or changing the work of former colleagues. Show compassion and acknowledge the feelings, don’t let them be pushed them under the table to fester, and provide some social time for their release.
  • Fifth, build a strong feedback loop so employees have a say in what is happening, how they are getting on and areas for improvement. Now is the time to learn, and be seen to learn, from previous mistakes. Employee survey tools and team meetings are both avenues to let individuals express their views.  Key to successful engagement will be recognising the contribution of the employees who stayed. Along with recognising everyone’s combined effort to achieve company wins and progress against goals, bring in a way to recognise individuals who are excelling. This could be as simple as an email from the CEO each week to say well done.

Printed in the Sunday Business Post 7 June 2020

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