The recent airline receivership bombshell and the overnight 1100+ staff redundancies made horrifying reading and television viewing. I could only imagine the awfulness of going to work anticipating an ordinary day, like any other, to find access denied, security guards at the door and being told to go home, everything is over. What a brutal way to have your hopes, dreams, plans for the future, and day to day survival threatened, or shattered. Are there any ‘good’ ways of making people redundant? If an organisation had the luxury of time, despite being (or not being) on the verge of collapse, what could be done to make a difficult process easier on those involved?
Job loss is usually experienced as a major trauma. Similar to the coping mechanisms used when facing the death of loved ones, or facing life threatening illnesses, people experience various defense and coping mechanisms – denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and hope. These means last for different periods of time and replace each other or exist side by side at times. It’s a time of roller-coaster emotions, fatigue and enormous stress. The impact isn’t all nicely sorted and dealt with within a few weeks or until the holiday pay runs out. It can last for weeks, months or years.
Affected individuals find it difficult to be focused, to know what to do, how to react. Some get concerned about what’s the ‘normal’ way to be, given the situation. Some get concerned at the roller-coaster emotional highs and lows and fear they may be ‘losing it’ completely. Some don’t outwardly appear the least bit perturbed and respond as if it’s no big deal. Some, in the midst of it all, find it difficult to believe they will ever get through it, or that their life will be all right, ever again. It’s generally a time of major loss of confidence and self esteem. It can be also very hard to believe its not ‘personal’, when it has happened to them, and not the next door neighbour.
Support is critical. It is singularly unhelpful for people to hear a braying, hearty ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘it’s a blessing in disguise’ message, when they’re shocked, emotionally distressed and sometimes physically unwell as well. Initially, people need a listening ear (and need to repeat themselves, many times) and an acknowledgement of how difficult their situation is. They also need to be asked how can they be best supported. It’ll be different things, for different people.
Practical support and direction is also required. Some will need assistance to consider new career opportunities or retraining options. Some will need to identify their interests, passions, strengths, skills, their self-limiting beliefs and personal blocks. Some may need help with CV preparation, interview skills; some may need guidance to approaching potential employers. Some may need financial or budgeting advice. Some may need help to develop an action plan, so they slowly move from shock-induced inertia to action. People will be ready for practical support and direction at different times. Forcing it upon them when they’re not mentally or emotionally ready to do what’s required, will be unsuccessful.
And for the people who have to implement redundancy processes and do these difficult tasks? If you have a controlled situation and the luxury of time, plan it well. This means following legal, fair processes and providing real support. Too often organisations grudgingly provide token support gestures i.e. two hours of change management seminar and a few hours for CV preparation – and feel that’s their obligation met. Do repay peoples’ contributions and years of service with respect and generosity. Be a good employer and help people leave well.
It’s important too, to get support around you. Knowing all the reasons why redundancies must occur doesn’t make it any easier to do. It is difficult to face people and tell them what needs to happen. It is difficult to take people through the process, when they are shocked, feeling betrayed, fearful and in different stages of coping. It can be difficult coping with the distress and guilt of knowing that business decisions have impacted so dramatically upon peoples’ lives.
There is no ideal way to deal with redundancies. Whether you are the person ‘doing the doing’ to others, or you’re the person being ‘done to’, it is an unenviable position to be in. If you were to be made redundant tomorrow, how would you like to be treated?
First Published in NZBusiness October 2001�