Managing Redundancies with Empathy & Compassion

Many businesses are facing difficult and challenging decisions in dealing with the impact of COVID-19.  If you’ve considered all the cost-cutting alternatives but still find that a workforce reduction is necessary, you’ll have to plan carefully for how to implement…


Blog30th Jul 2020

Many businesses are facing difficult and challenging decisions in dealing with the impact of COVID-19.  If you’ve considered all the cost-cutting alternatives but still find that a workforce reduction is necessary, you’ll have to plan carefully for how to implement the redundancies. Taking professional advice before making any changes to terms and conditions, or indeed any redundancies are envisaged, will ensure you manage risk and protect the interests of your organisation. Information on procedures to follow is available from ACAS. Depending on employee length of service and the number of affected roles, procedural requirements to navigate any associated risk can vary  – please get in touch if chatting this through with a member of our qualified HR team could be helpful.

Our Founder, Lisa Thomson, was recently asked to speak to attendees of a Social Investment Scotland webinar on Restructuring and Redundancies – a relevant topic in the current economic climate where many businesses are facing tough decisions to future proof their organisations.

We have summarised some of the key takeaways from her talk.

Restructuring and redundancies – The practical & people-centred aspects

Handling redundancies in the correct way will make a significant difference to how people cope and react to the event, to the reputation and future success of the organisation, and to the morale of those remaining in the workforce.

You want to ensure that those employees you unfortunately have to let go are well-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead and feel in as positive a place as possible emotionally. Putting some time and effort into this will also result in less hassle later. Research from the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) shows that disputes are far less likely to be raised if an employee believes the process to be compassionate and people are less likely to raise wrongful termination claims and/or become disruptive. This is backed up by our experiences of supporting and facilitating these programmes across numerous clients.

When in the difficult position of having to make redundancies, here are some key actions we can take – as leaders, managers and HR professionals – to ease some of the stress and anxiety, both for the employees and the business.

Communicate with openness and transparency

Communications around redundancies need not be complicated: compassion and clarity are key. Compassion means treating people as humans. Losing a job is traumatic in any circumstances and especially so in these challenging economic times, and how you break the news and the way you communicate should acknowledge and reflect that. Share the commercials along with the rationale for your decisions. Explain what actions the organisation may have already taken to try to avoid or minimise job cuts, how you’ve made it as fair as possible, and be clear and open about the procedures and timescales involved. Clarity means being straightforward, clear and consistent with the key messages. Use empathetic, sincere langauge that shows how much you care.

Show respect

Treat people like the adults they are, with respect and empathy. Redundancy is sad news and making someone redundant is one of the worst jobs you may have to do as a manager, so decision makers should acknowledge that it is hard for everyone involved. People may take the news of redundancy personally – it can be hard not to do that when your job and livelihood is at risk. Put yourself in the employees shoes and try not to get defensive – instead empathise, and seek to understand where the anger is coming from. It is important to recognise and value the contributions individuals have made to the organisation, and to reinforce that it is the job and not the person themselves that is being made redundant. There is no stigma or shame involved.

Be prepared

Take time for information gathering, identifying clear organisational needs and goals, and setting out responsibilities. Identify your time frame and prepare the appropriate documentation. Have accurate figures and entitlements ready. Ensure that those conveying the message know how to hold difficult conversations and are equipped to handle the reactions and feedback.

Be fair and flexible

Don’t rush the consultations and allow time for people to digest information and give feedback. Be open and flexible to exploring and discussing alternatives as there may be proposals put forward that hadn’t been thought of e.g. changes to roles or reduced hours. If the organisation has alternatives to suggest this can make a big difference to the experience. Even if the employee doesn’t take them up, they can really appreciate it.

Be supportive

Anticipate a range of reactions and be prepared to deal with them. Ensure those being made redundant fully understand their rights and options and there are open channels to discuss these as required. Make sure that those affected have support and someone they can talk to. Provide access to counselling services, financial advice and other relevant tools. Ultimately you want to be sure that the people you unfortunately have to let go are as well-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead and feel as positive as possible emotionally.

Offer HR outplacement support

Help people enhance their employability with access to practical help such as CV writing, interviewing skills, job hunting etc. Help them think about transferrable skills and being open to options they may not have themselves considered. It pays to take practical steps to stay connected and maintain positive relationships with talented people you may want to rehire at some point when business picks up. It’s worth checking in occasionally, if only to show you’re concerned with how they’re getting along and to offer your help, where needed — whether a reference, a job lead or access to your network of contacts.

Don’t rush the process

Sometimes organisations want to get the redundancy process over and done with as quickly as possible and ‘move on’, but this can have a much worse impact longer term. When you rush the process, you risk it coming across as overly harsh and uncaring. It can really damage your brand and leaves your retained employees with low morale, which means low productivity and loyalty.

Communicate with the wider team

Think about the impact on the wider team and those that are remaining with the organisation. Have a communications plan and be proactive rather than allowing rumours or whispers to circulate. Acknowledge how the whole team are feeling and offer support. Show that the company is looking out for the wellbeing of all those impacted and make sure management are visible, positive and approachable.  Keep communicating and updating the team, and work out a plan for restoring confidence, rebuilding moral and resolving fears for the future. Be sure to provide regular updates on progress to maintain ongoing confidence.

Final thoughts

Companies are undoubtedly facing difficult decisions in these challenging times, but how you treat and communicate with your people will be remembered. By leading with compassion and empathy in any redundancies you may have to make, you can stay true to your values and ensure people leave feeling they have been treated fairly and respectfully.

AAB People are experienced in supporting businesses through restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting. We provide expert project management, HR advice and facilitation support at meetings, and can also provide outplacement and transition coaching.

If you are considering changes to your workforce, please first get in touch to find out how our experienced team can help.

The Social Investment Scotland webinar on Restructuring and Redundancies can be watched in full here, with Lisa discussing the practical and people-centred aspects from 40:30.

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