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Six steps employers can take to lessen the impact of redundancies

16th Jul 2013

This article was written by Steve Preston, Director or career management organisation SMP Solutions.

1. Managing the Execution
Managing restructuring and redundancies is a daunting task, especially for managers who have never had to deal with these issues first hand. By getting the execution right, you stand to gain respect and also engage employees staying and leaving whilst overcoming most of these challenges. Unfortunately, if you get it wrong the reverse will happen and you will make an already difficult situation even worse.

Research suggests one in two people are in the wrong job and two out of three are unfulfilled, therefore you can turn the potential threat into an opportunity and in doing so really boost employee engagement and career opportunities for your top talent. If you have people who have been languishing in their jobs too long with great skills that are not being fulfilled, the best course for both the organisation and the employee would be to use their skills in a more effective way elsewhere in the organisation. This way you can help save unnecessary job losses and by being proactive as part of the re-organisation process you can enable the right employees to grow and develop their careers plus help provide the quality of service required in other parts of the organisation, creating a ‘win, win' situation.

2. Managing the emotional reactions and difficult conversations
Few people want to be the bearer of bad news, however when reorganisation happens it is an unfortunate and necessary part of HR and every managers' role. The key is to be honest, keep your people informed so they know what is happening, when it will happen, who is at risk and above all else WHY change is happening. Although employees won't like what is happening, they will always be more understanding if the WHY is explained.

If your organisation is providing career transition support for your ‘at risk’ employees it will be a boost to offer this opportunity at an early stage to reduce the negative impact at such an emotional time.

The emotional reactions are far from one-sided, as it is often as difficult for the manager imparting the news as the employee on the receiving end, especially if the manager’s fate is still uncertain when they have to share the news.

Even if you have previously been involved in such conversations as a manager, there is no ‘one size fits all’ and everybody will react in different ways from shock, disbelief, denial, anger, some even relief or elation!

You are likely to encounter staff who:

  • Have never experienced the threat of redundancy
  • Thought they had a clearly defined career path
  • Have little or no experience of job searching, writing CV’s and interviews
  • Feel bitter, fear change and the unknown
  • Feel guilty being selected to stay when colleagues are leaving

3. Getting the Communication Right
It is so important to get this communication process right. You will require empathy and great communication skills to keep the right people informed in a timely way to avoid damaging rumours.

External support can prove invaluable as HR and line managers can be coached through the process or be supported at meetings. The same applies to supporting ‘redundancy survivors’ who may be struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of restructuring. Any additional cost should be repaid in achieving more understanding and engaged employees.

If organisations do not wish to invest in this support they will need to ensure that all managers involved in the process are fully trained to ensure consistent delivery and results.

If you are a manager then you have a responsibility to ensure that you and your team get the best possible support to meet your needs. Showing a caring attitude with correct HR and legal procedures, providing professional career transition and outplacement support for your staff at this difficult time creates goodwill and corporate social responsibility. You cannot underestimate the importance and impact of your actions at such a sensitive time.

4. Managing the survivors – ‘Survivor Syndrome’
How you manage your ‘survivors’ will have a massive impact on how quickly things return to normal following re-organisation. Whether you are a manager or part of a team, you could suffer from feelings of guilt. Instead of feeling pleased that you have survived the ‘cull’, you could feel guilty about why you have stayed and your friends and colleagues have gone.

This needs close management and the right coaching support to help you regroup, regain your focus and motivation and continue to carry out your role effectively.

You might also need external coaching support to re-motivate and re-energise your team at this difficult time, as jobs still need doing and targets still need to be achieved and it may all seem too much. A small investment in time and cost running a focused team awayday or a short burst of team coaching sessions can help boost morale, team spirit and get things moving forward positively again.

You have to let go and move forward, re-evaluate, establish and focus on your priorities, value and benefit to the organisation. Ultimately the cycle ends by taking positive action to ensure that you and your team are back on track and delivering for your customers.

As with any management process, effective planning and preparation will minimise the risk and maximise the chance of achieving successful outcomes for all concerned.

5. Planning for reorganisation & Redundancy

There should be a number of key considerations before the ‘hatchet’ falls:

Workforce optimisation

  • Are you getting the most out of your team?
  • What are the opportunities to improve the performance of your staff and to manage the impact of staff on both operational efficiency and the customer or patient experience?
  • What are the areas of the organisation in real need of additional support and what are the key skills required?
  • How is the organisation addressing the opportunities to ensure that the right people are in the right jobs with the right skill sets i.e. getting square pegs into square holes?
  • What processes are in place to protect and continue to develop the ‘top talent’?

Investing time in this part of the process could result in saving unnecessary job losses plus providing many employees with an opportunity to kick-start their career in a new role to mutually benefit the organisation rather than losing key talent.

Managed well, it will also send out positive signals to the workforce that the organisation is proactively managing the restructuring / reorganisation process which should have a positive impact on employee engagement, unlike mindlessly cutting out costs without much prior consideration.

6. Outplacement and Career Transition Support Programmes

Offering outplacement and career transition programmes can help to soften the blow for many employees plus help them consider new opportunities within the organisation, where appropriate, or outside the organisation if there are no other alternatives.

It'll also equip people with the tools to have the best possible chance to find the right job for them as quickly as possible plus also tools to help them re-evaluate their careers and look forward to the future with confidence.

While cost is a key consideration for most organisations, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, although better than nothing, is unlikely to produce the best results for the affected employees.

Showing a caring attitude and having a programme of support to reflect that people have differing needs should ensure that displaced employees leave on good terms while sending out positive signals to the rest of the workforce creating positive PR which will aid engagement and staff retention.

Summary for managing the emotional reactions

Employees may feel bitter, fear change and the unknown.

A well organised outplacement programme will:

  • Demonstrate you are a professional and caring employer, enhancing your brand reputation
  • Engage, improve morale and productivity of retained employees (if managed effectively)
  • Minimise risk of employment litigation claims!

Summary for ‘Survivor Syndrome’

Key considerations:

  • Staff and managers often lose their sense of belonging and focus post-restructuring
  • Fewer staff doing more work – are they in the right jobs?
  • Potential impact on morale and productivity
  • Proactively manage top talent – make them feel valued as you retained them for a reason!

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