UK: THE JOB NOBODY WANTS. - Sensitive handling of redundancy is crucial for companies too.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Sensitive handling of redundancy is crucial for companies too.

Everyone agrees it's unpleasant but sometimes it's inescapable. Someone has to tell an employee that he or she is redundant. The Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) warns in its seven-page code on redundancy that 'organisations should seek to minimise, wherever possible, the trauma redundancy will cause if they wish to remain operational and competitive'. How, then, should they deliver the bad tidings?

'Frankly, there's no best way of taking away someone's job - there are only less bad ones,' says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at UMIST. 'Delivering the news badly can be psychologically damaging, leaving the employee feeling devalued and lacking in confidence and self-worth.' Moreover it's not just the individual who is at risk. 'Ultimately it will rebound upon the organisation,' warns Cooper. 'Aggrieved employees bad-mouth their organisations in harmful ways.' The handling of redundancy is crucial for the company as well as the employee, agrees Chris Dunn, managing director of outplacement specialists TDA Consulting, whose clients include Rolls-Royce, Lloyds Bank and the BBC. 'The way in which organisations deal with redundancy leaves a lasting impression on those who go - and sets the tone for those who stay.' Most employers have learned to refrain from delivering news of redundancy via a curt note on Friday afternoon, observes Doug Gummery, policy adviser on employee relations at the IPD. But there is still a lot of ignorance around, particularly in smaller companies which lack the expertise of a personnel department. 'A government initiative to provide training for directors or managers of SMEs who face the prospect of cutting staff would be highly beneficial.' It's almost always the employee's immediate line manager who should deliver bad tidings, Gummery points out. But if the immediate boss knows he or she will not be good at conveying the news, then assistance should be sought. In any case, where possible, a member of the personnel department should also be present. 'It can be a pretty desperate situation, and it's wise to plan for those occasions when the employee takes the news very badly. Having someone there with experience of counselling can help to steer the interview through choppy waters ... These are fraught situations which require very humane handling.' Graham Pitt, operations director of the outplacement consultancy Focus, believes that many companies could handle redundancy more sensitively. 'Surreptitiously calling people to a meeting off-site to deliver the news, rigidly scheduling interviews at 15-minute intervals, telling people last thing on a Friday night or passing the buck to the personnel department - that's bad practice,' he says. The key to good practice is planning. Line managers should break the news on an individual basis. They should be concise and clear without being brutal, and the best time to act is early in the week preferably during the afternoon. Pitt, who runs a short training course for Focus on 'Breaking the News' (it relies heavily on role-playing), believes that many line managers are as traumatised as the staff - 'although generally their trauma is overlooked'.

Not everyone believes in the 'softly, softly' approach, however. Marie Ross was made redundant, along with with 70 others, by the information systems company Data Logic. 'They got us all together, told us we were redundant, gave us 10 minutes to leave the building with our personal belongings and suggested that we made an appointment to collect the rest of our possessions the following week.' It's not unusual, in an industry where angry employees with access to computers can wreak havoc, to ask redundant staff to leave immediately. 'It felt dreadful for 24 hours,' recalls Ross, but perhaps surprisingly she adds that 'I feel it was the best way. We were forced to deal with it very quickly. Both for those leaving and for those who stay, that may be preferable to dragging out the inevitable.'

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