De-stressing the R-word
By Carolyn Brown
Wouldn’t it be great if the word redundancy became redundant? It is such a negative word – no longer required, superfluous to requirements. What is there not to feel depressed about when the word is literally defined as “without further use”. I get it, I genuinely do, that sometimes there is no alternative other than to call time on a role and cease employment. But gee whiz, can’t we come up with a better term for it?
I remember the first time I was cut loose 24 years ago. To paraphrase the corporate pro-forma letter we all received – it is a done deal; here is a course on writing a CV you can attend – best of luck. The company wasn’t in financial trouble; new technology just meant humans were superfluous to making a profit.
We have come a long way since then, but I still see and hear horror stories of employees being let go without notice or it being used as an excuse to “get rid of deadwood”. Times are tough in a Covid world, so we thought it timely to investigate some of the best ways to soften the impact of giving employees an enforced chance to work for someone else.
1. No surprises
Business strategists will tell you that the more you communicate to your employees about the business’s financial side, the better off you will all be. Employees who become invested in the business’s success will work hard to save it when the going gets tough. They are also more likely to accept job losses as they know that everyone involved gave it their best shot. Yes, there is a risk that employees may panic and jump ship prematurely, but generally, those who share in the aims and goals of the organisation will try and help find ways to keep the doors open.
2. Choose your moment carefully
Because the only person who knows how they will react to being set adrift is the person walking the plank, make sure you have a life raft, i.e., someone they can talk to immediately afterwards available. Be aware that if you break the news at 5pm on a Friday, some of your employees may not be in the company of others until Monday morning. The combination of bad news and solitude may be detrimental to their mental health. Nor is it optimal to let employees know on Christmas Eve or before any joyous occasion associated with financial and mental stress already.
3. Emphasise it is the role, not the person, that is being disestablished
It isn’t easy to not take the news of being put out to pasture personally. If the employee hasn’t been with the organisation for long, they may feel the adage of last on first off has been applied, and they have been unfairly treated as a result. The same personal grievance may be felt by the employee who has been with the organisation for a long time. They may think they have been given the short straw because a younger person is cheaper or are considered incapable of learning new skills required. Be sure to avoid such disgruntlement by clearly showing that it is the role that is no longer viable, not them.
4. Don’t drag it out
There once was an organisation that got into financial difficulties and started staggering out the dismissal of people over several weeks, each with only a couple of days’ notice that they were being let go. Those left behind started to feel like they were in the reality show Survivor, not knowing who would be next, and the work environment became toxic. The uncertainty affected productivity, and the financial situation worsened as a result. Be upfront about which roles are under threat, and be sure to include wrap-around support for those going and for those left behind. Never ask someone to keep their job loss a secret from others as it just adds to the stress and a drop in productivity. Be prepared for someone to opt to leave immediately once told. Job loss affects people differently; some might be happy to work until the role comes to an end, whilst others will consider it punishment to stay there until the job is over.
5. Follow the rules but still be kind
The New Zealand Government has set rules on shedding employees, including a checklist for organisations to follow. It is a handy document to have as it ensures that all rights and obligations under the process are met. But like all Government documents, it is fairly clinical and matter of fact in its prescription.
If you are doing a big restructure, it might be worth bringing in some experts to help you to evaluate everyone in your team’s roles and assess what is most needed and what is not. Bringing in external people can help to make this processes fairer, more transparent and without personal bias.
Losing staff is hard on everyone, management included, so be sure to approach the process with empathy and kindness every step of the way. And do try to avoid using the R-word repeatedly, as I have done in this blog. Hopefully, one day we will come up with a new word to describe the removal of a role instead of implying the person is of no further use. If you have been through restructuring and have your own stories to share on how you managed it successfully, please do share in the comments.
About Carolyn Brown
Carolyn enjoys writing stuff that engages readers, makes them feel like they are in a conversation with the screen, and doesn’t require a dictionary on standby to make sense of what she has written.
When she is not creating content, she likes to keep busy volunteering for various not for profits; throwing sticks to her step-dog as they walk along North Beach in Christchurch, and enjoying the company of friends. If you would like to know more, head on over to her website www.writecopynz.co.nz or email her at [email protected]