Downsizing and Redundancy – How to Communicate Downsizing With Dignity

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2008 and 2009 have seen a growing tide of pressure for businesses to reorganize their workforce in an attempt to ride the economic storm. As a result, managers may be faced with the responsibility of calling an employee into their office to have that dreaded talk about redundancy and downsizing.

If only business could channel their communication on important issues around the organisation as effectively and as fast as the good old rumour mill. Nothing undermines morale and stops productivity in its tracks more than the threat of job loss, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen when word gets out that employee redundancy is on the agenda in your organisation. It’s vitally important to manage the void between rumour and the facts about the potential threat of downsizing and redundancy. Here are some key tips on managing that conversation with those employees whose positions are the target of redundancy.

1. As a general rule, communicate early, frequently, honestly and compassionately.

2. Be prepared. Make sure you have the facts in front of you and that the employee paperwork and employee support mechanisms are in place prior to having the redundancy conversation. Think ahead about how to answer the questions that are likely to arise – including the ones not related to work. Set aside a private, uninterrupted place in which to have the conversation, and have counseling support immediately available. No interruptions means a closed door, no mobiles, PDAs or blackberries.

3. Show Empathy. During the conversation about redundancy, look the person in the eyes, be clear and be empathetic. That person is probably going to move into the worry mode right off the bat, so they are unlikely to hear the full content of the conversation. Instead they may be distracted by some of the most serious problems a person can face all at one time. How will they feed their family? How will they pay the rent? How will they keep up with the mortgage? How will they face their peers back in the office? Are they not as worthwhile of valuable person as they thought they were? As an employer, do your best to really listen. Give them feedback that will let them know you care.

4. Be Responsible. Showing empathy inside the redundancy conversation doesn’t mean absolving yourself of responsibility for the decision. As a manager – whether you agree with the organisation’s decision or not- take responsibility for the decision, be clear about the reasons and refrain from blaming anyone else. The most compassionate position you can take is to be empathetic yet clear and decisive about the decision.

5. Offer Choice and Control. The knowledge that your position is redundant can be a very disempowering experience. The greatest healer of this experience can be the reassurance that the employee is in fact still in control. Relieve the pressure valve of uncertainty be offering answers to the most likely questions the employee will raise. Reinforce their experience of control by reminding them that they still have choices to make which are entirely within their control. Consider offering services that create a framework for these choices to take place, which could range from confidential counseling and training in effectively managing personal change through to up-to-date career transition education and insights into wealth creation.

6. Break the News as Early as Possible. People can be remarkably resilient, particularly when offered the hand of trust and respect. Rather than withhold vital information and allow the rumour mill to run unchecked, demonstrate to your employees some level of trust by letting them know as soon as possible that redundancies are on the table. Waste no time in advising individuals when the decision has been made that their individual position has been declared redundant. Give ample time for employees to work through the redundancy process, communicate with their team mates and even celebrate their separation with colleagues. Allowing employees a reasonable amount of time to prepare for separation is not an excuse for sloppy decision making, however, Make sure your decision making process is in high gear and the employee separation process moves as promptly as possible,

N.B. The time frame for separation depends on the perceived risk to the business. Unfortunately, in some instances, where security is a legitimate risk, then redundant employees may need to be escorted from the workplace nearly immediately.

7. A little thanks goes a long way. Let separating employees know how thankful you are for their service and loyalty to the business.

The redundancy conversation can be a stressful one – both for manager and employee (unless of course the employee wants a redundancy). Use these tips to ameliorate that stress and achieve two primary objectives. First, downsizing that meets your business objectives; and second, a process that transpires with everyone’s dignity intact.

© 2009 Di Worrall