Most of us will have experienced the impact of redundancy at some point in our lives – if not directly, then through a friend or family member. It is one of the most intensely stressful events that an individual will ever experience, ranking closely with divorce, serious illness, and the death of a close relative – and knowing this makes having to deliver the news of redundancy one of the most difficult challenges facing any manager or team leader.
The disastrous impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on previously thriving organisations around the world, means that managers now find themselves having to lay-off loyal, highly capable employees: a situation which would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
Not only that, but social distancing in face-to-face meetings and remote working serve to make delivering a difficult redundancy message even more challenging and upsetting for both the manager and the employee.
So, in this article I will offer my advice on how managers should prepare themselves for redundancy meetings and share videos of my own online meeting rehearsals with a colleague where we address three of the most common employee reactions: withdrawal, anger, and pragmatism.
Redundancy conversations are never easy, and I know highly experienced managers who have sleepless nights worrying about how they are going to break the news to their people. Some try to bottle up their emotions to the point where they can appear somewhat cold and callous. Others try to distance themselves from the decision to make redundancies – “if it was down to me we wouldn’t be letting people go”.
None of this is helpful to the individuals who are at risk of losing their jobs.
In my experience, the best approach for one-on-one redundancy meetings is to deliver the message briefly, simply, and consistently, giving the employee clear and precise reasons why their role is at risk – and then respond to each individual’s reaction to that message with care and compassion.
Immediately after the meeting, a letter reiterating the redundancy message and giving further details of the process should be given to the employee along with any additional supporting documentation.
There are seven key stages to ensuring a successful outcome to these meetings:
1. Legal Considerations: Managers need to be clear whether the one-on-one meetings they are having with their people are either (a) to give the employee notice of dismissal, or (b) to make employees aware that they are at risk of redundancy and that a consultation process will now take place. It is also good practice for managers to make the employee aware of any internal right of appeal procedures.
2. Documentation: Most redundancy programmes will require a series of letters to be sent to the employees who will potentially lose their jobs. The first letter will confirm that jobs are at risk and that the organisation is entering a period of consultation. This should include details of the terms being offered. The second letter confirms that the employee has provisionally been selected for redundancy. The final letter gives formal notice of redundancy. The appropriate letter should be sent to the employee immediately after meeting with their manager.
Internal communications to inform employees who will not be impacted by the redundancy program should also be prepared. These should explain the process and highlight which groups of employees will be impacted. Where appropriate, organisations should also prepare communications for external stakeholders.
A timetable at the start of the process is also useful as a guide both for employees and managers. The timetable should include any steps that the employee needs to take, e.g.: the opportunity to consider alternative vacancies that might be available within the organisation.
3. Frequently Asked Questions: Managers should work with their HR colleagues to identify and sign off approved answers to questions which might arise during the redundancy meetings e.g.: Would my pay be the same if I am offered an alternative role within the organisation? Am I entitled to ask for time off to find new work and attend interviews? What happens to my pension?
Being able to answer these questions in the meeting rather than having to go back to the employee will reassure them that the redundancy process has been properly thought through, and that the concerns of employees have been addressed.
4. Location: When face-to-face meetings are possible, it is important to meet in a quiet, private room free from the risk of interruptions. In glass-walled meeting rooms, seating should be arranged to ensure that the employee is not looking out into a public area.
If managers are meeting with their people online, however, the location is significantly less controllable. Planning and preparation are, therefore, even more important – thinking about what each employee will need in order for them to have the best meeting possible. For example, if an employee is working from home and typically has family members in close proximity, the manager might suggest that for this meeting they need to find a private and quiet space.
This is vital because the conversation must not be rushed or interrupted. Employees need time to process what they are being told. Managers need to be able to read the employee’s emotions and think about how best to react. As a result, there are likely to be long pauses in the conversation, and in some instances it might be appropriate to have a follow-up call later in the day or the following morning.
5. Timing: Most redundancy conversations can be concluded professionally and compassionately in about 15 to 20-minutes – however, it is always wise for a manager to assume they will take half an hour. Managers should also allow sufficient time after the meeting for the employee to adjust to having heard the news before having to spend time with their family. For these reasons, meetings should be booked for the morning or early afternoon. As follow-up call may also be required, meetings should be avoided ahead of days-off and holidays.
6. Rehearsals: The purpose of rehearsals is to ensure that managers remain in control of the meeting at all times. In preparation for these rehearsals, managers should write down the key points they need to make. This not only helps structure a personal narrative, it also acts as an aide memoire if a meeting becomes emotional and the manager needs to bring it back on track.
It should be noted that some organisations require a pre-scripted statement to be read out to employees, so managers should check the organisation’s policy on this ahead of rehearsals.
Below I have posted videos of three of my own online redundancy meeting rehearsals. Click on the images to see the videos and, as you’ll see, these are not ‘perfect’ meetings – far from it. Rather, they were an opportunity for my colleague and I to review the content and delivery of our key messages and address any issues before meeting with employees.
The first meeting is with “Jo” who I thought would be very upset but who would try to suppress her emotions:
The second meeting is with “Pat” who I expected to respond angrily to the news:
The final meeting is with “Cindy” who tends to be positive and optimistic in most situations:
7. Conducting the meeting: I’ve said that employees who are to lose their jobs are entitled to consideration and compassion. So, what constitutes compassion? I suggest the following:
- The meeting should convey a clear message with no element of ambiguity or doubt. If the employee is to be dismissed at the meeting this should be clear and unequivocal. However, if the meeting is designed to start of redundancy consultation process it should be made equally clear that a final decision has not yet been taken and will only be made once the consultation process is concluded.
- The employee should be told where any notice period will be worked. Alternatively, the employee should be informed that they will be leaving immediately and paid in lieu of notice.
- If the organisation is making any ex-gratia payments (i.e.: payments that are in addition to the basic entitlement) then this should be made clear.
- The employee should be informed that the proposed terms for the severance will be given in writing following the meeting. If the employee wishes to discuss severance terms in more detail the manager should commit to arrange a meeting with a member of the HR team or another line manager the next day or certainly soon after. (Managers should check how the organisation wishes these requests to be met ahead of their meeting with the employee).
- If job search or outplacement support is being provided by the organisation to help an individual find a new position or move into self-employment or retirement, this should be highlighted in the meeting with details provided either in writing or in a follow-up meeting.
In summary, to conduct a redundancy meeting with professionalism and compassion requires thorough and detailed preparation. The process will never be easy, never be comfortable – but enabling an employee to exit the organisation with dignity is something the very best managers strive to deliver for their people.