Job losses are everywhere. Some say you're not a real boss until you've had to hand over a P45. But if dismissing someone is hard, being on the receiving end is worse. If redundancies are on the cards, planning and consultation help both sides retain their composure and self-respect, says David Butcher
It's the toughest 10 minutes most managers have to face. You call your victim, the member of your team that you're about to fire, and ask him into your office with a matter-of-fact 'Can I have a quick word?'. Then he's sitting across the desk from you. 'I'm afraid there's no easy way to say this, Bob,' you begin. You force yourself to look him in the eye, but over the next few minutes you steadily demolish his work life, his self-image, maybe his career. You remember his nice wife, the young kids whose pictures are on his desk, the new house he just moved into. And, though you realise this had to be done, that it has been planned and rationalised, you do not at that moment feel good about yourself. Not at all.
If you've never been through it, count yourself lucky. But with the deepening downturn, redundancy programmes that haven't been seen since the early '90s are back in the headlines, and a new generation of managers are having to wield the axe for the first time. Many will flounder, lose their grip and make a complete hash of it. 'It's very, very hard,' warns HR consultant Elaine Rowe. 'You have to face it, sort it, quickly and honestly and with trust. Most people don't mean to screw it up, but it happens.'