Wednesday 1 April, 2020

Retrenchment of staff – making the process less painful

Every day it seems we read about local firms that are downsizing and sending staff home. Whilst this is, without doubt, a traumatic experience for everyone involved, there are a number of ways that employers can ease the pain and reduce the possibility of backlash from disgruntled former employees.

COMMUNICATION - Critical to a smooth retrenchment exercise is open, frequent and honest communication. The rumour mill will start working the minute there is a hint of job losses, so the organisation has to get ahead of this early. Make sure you speak to key managers and team leaders to let them know every step of the way, what is happening and more importantly, WHY it is happening. What are the reasons behind the staff cuts? How will you decide who is to be sent home? Have you exhausted all other options (redeployment, benefit reductions, manager salary cuts, etc) before getting to this stage?

Whilst your staff won’t agree with job cuts, they are less likely to resist or agitate if they understand the thinking behind it. Once your managers are properly informed, they can then answer questions and ensure that grievances are addressed early and professionally. Your staff deserve to be given an honest picture of what is going to happen, and what the future looks like. Even part of the picture is better than no picture at all.

PROCESS – Staff need to have a very clear understanding of what is ahead. What steps are involved in the redundancy exercise? What guidance and support will they be getting from the organisation during and even after the retrenchment? What are their responsibilities throughout? A compassionate and professional firm will provide clear guidelines and timelines to their staff so that no one is confused or unsure as to what is ahead.

RESPECT – Throughout the process, you must respect the people involved. Remember that although the position is being made redundant and not the person, there is still a human being who is losing their employment in the middle of it all. You have to show empathy to their feelings, and be prepared to listen and provide answers to their questions in a calm and considerate manner. You don’t have to agree with their opinions, but you should be able to accept and validate them as legitimate.

RESPONSIBILITY – Although you must take responsibility for the decision and process (either as the business owner or the manager representing the firm), be careful not to make promises you cannot keep. For example, don’t promise that people will receive their severance pay on a particular date unless you are 100% that will be done. Losing your job is bad enough without the company misleading you about when you will receive your cheque.

It is also your responsibility to provide information and guidance, not counselling. Your firm may have chosen to offer retrenched staff ‘after’ support such as resume writing and interview skills training, financial planning support and EAP, but your job is to give them the information about this, not do it yourself. Take ownership of the process but be responsible in what you promise.

DON’T SAY – When sharing the bad news, don’t say things like ‘It’s not the end of the world’, ‘I think we have been very generous’ or ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find something else’. Unless you have been retrenched yourself, you cannot possibly understand the impact this has on people, so steer clear of insensitive statements. You have to be prepared for a wide range of reactions and emotions – don’t take it personally and remember to treat each individual as you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.


Author of this article, Lara Quentrall-Thomas, is the Chairman of Regency Recruitment and Resources Ltd.

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