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Keeping the Human in Human Resources – Redundancy

I’ve just watched ‘Up in the air’, the film where George Clooney is a ‘Transition Counsellor’ flying around the country firing people and then preparing them to find new jobs.

It got me thinking about redundancy – it’s impact and the importance of treating people well.  It’s a process I’ve been involved in a lot – mostly advising, once personally. So here are some things  I have learned about keeping the human in human resources during a redundancy process.

The process and emotions may get complicated, but usually the actual redundancy is not.  I like this plain English definition of redundancy from

“Redundancy is when you dismiss an employee because you no longer need anyone to do their job. […]For a redundancy to be genuine, you must demonstrate that the employee’s job will no longer exist.”

Sometimes this is clear – we’ve lost X contract / funding, there are less orders coming in for x product. Simply, we have less work and need less people to do it.  Sometimes it’s not so clear. I have seen managers go through super complicated restructures rather than tackle performance issues. Never a good experience for anybody.

These questions help me to stay focussed –

‘What, exactly, will you stop doing? and who does that now?’

‘What will be different / what will continue when that person /people walk in (or don’t walk in) the day the new structure is implemented?’

If these can’t be answered clearly it might be a good time to double check if you are in the right process.  That’s unlikely to make you popular, but ultimately it will be less painful for less people with a less negative impact on the business.

If these questions can be answered then it’s onto the stages below;

Planning – When will the change take effect?  Be systematic and work backwards. Use a spreadsheet. Check off legal requirements at each stage.

Identifying the pool for selection – Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s more complicated. Decide your criteria, test they don’t discriminate, think about how you select.

Seeking volunteers – Think about the likely impact before you ask and manage expectations!  You probably want to keep the people with some ‘get up & go’ the problem is, they are also most likely to be the people who do ‘get up and go’. When you say no to them, they may stay but will not be happy at all and it may resent that you have (in their mind) rewarded the poor performers.

Consulting employees – have they had ideas and have you listened to them properly? Not consult spelt T.E.L.L consult spelt, erm, C.O.N.S.U.L.T.  Use plain English – At a time when people have a lot on their mind, now is not the time to try to dazzle them with your best prose.  Use plain English, it may feel blunt at times, so soften your delivery rather than make the language more ambiguous.

Selection for redundancy – Dammit, they’ve been a pain in the butt for years this is your chance to get rid of them! NO! Like Eurovision – bias in the judges scores will be obvious.

Appeals and dismissals – follow the process, don’t drag it out.

Suitable alternative employment – Do you have any other work they can do?  Keep an open mind.  Sometimes people have been in the wrong job for years and not even realised.  I’ve seen people almost sacked for poor performance in one job only to move and flourish in a different job.  You have an obligation to offer them suitable alternative employment, but (if you’re a big enough organisation) you can offer them something completely different. Just remember – if they don’t want it you can’t withhold their redundancy payment.

Redundancy payment – if you have to make them redundant, pay them properly.  Tell them how much they will get, when they will receive it and stick to it.

Counselling and support – what provision is in place? A quick 1:1 with a ‘mentor’ busy on their ipad doesn’t count.

(Stages from the CIPD factsheet on redundancy, comments mine! click here for the full CIPD factsheet on redundancy.)

I’ve not found anyone who admits to enjoying working on a redundancy, George Clooney in the film was only in it for the air miles. It can be draining and stressful, but it is your chance to keep the Human in Human Resources.

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15 July 2024


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