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Nick Golding

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Case study: Handling large-scale redundancies

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Countless organisations have had to make job cuts in the last few months, making HR’s job a particularly tough one. Nick Golding talks to Buckinghamshire County Council to find out how they are handling their large-scale redundancy process.

Back in January this year, the 14,000-strong workforce at Buckinghamshire County Council was confronted with the news that the council had been forced into a corner, and was planning to make job cuts right across the organisation.
 
The redundancy option is never an easy one to call, but budget constraints meant that the council was left with little option in the end, says Gill Hibberd, corporate director people and policy.
 
"We were told that in the future our budget is going to be reduced, which meant that we wouldn’t have the necessary finances to be able to deliver the services that we are at the moment."
 
"The focus for the council has been to take a long-term approach to job cuts."
To help the process run as smoothly as it possibly could, causing as little effect on the services the council delivered, Hibberd wanted to adopt a strategic plan to the redundancy programme. A large part of the strategy was to locate the areas of the business where cutbacks should not be made, and to do this effectively the HR team scoured the organisation in an effort to prioritise the different services that are on offer to the public.
 
Hibberd explains: "We had to think about, just like in any business, where our priorities were, and for us they were in critical services that people rely on, like child protection and home care services. People wouldn’t be able to function without these things."
 
Long-term approach
 
The redundancy programme was not going to be a particularly speedy process either, and the focus for the council has been to take a long-term approach to job cuts, rather than shift people out of the workplace overnight.
"This will be carefully planned over the next few years, we’ll have a long-term programme with a three-year delivery. I think the faster they are, the more akin to salami-slicing it becomes," she adds.
 
The only drawback linked to drawing out the process over three years, is that the main topic of conversation among staff is likely to be job cuts, and without the facts gossiping and rumour-spreading occurs, which can create an unhealthy and suspicious environment, not to mention an unproductive one.
 
According to Hibberd however, effective communication holds the key to banishing gossip, and whenever the council comes to a decision in the redundancy process, she is happy to share it with staff.
 
She explains: "Good communication is absolutely vital, the worst thing you can do is prolong the agony in situations such as this, as soon as you have made decisions about cuts, let people know exactly what they are and where they are going to impact."
 
"(Email)…should never be used to contact an individual employee with redundancy news."
And in an organisation of 14,000, where staff are dispersed across the county, communication can be a bit of a challenge, but technology can play its part on occasion.
 
"I found that email is a useful tool, especially when you want to get a message out very quickly; when we announced the job cuts we used email to make sure the message got out as many people as possible," adds Hibberd.
 
Though email can be a disastrous tool at times as well, and while Hibberd sees the advantages of sending group messages via email, she points out that it should never be used to contact an individual employee with redundancy news.
 
The redundancy impact
 
For Hibberd and the rest of the council HR team, the challenges do not stop at communication, and they have been forced to consider and plan the way that redundancies will impact on groups of employees, as well as the individuals losing their positions.
 
She explains that decisions must only be made once all workers have been considered, for example, losing a manager will have a direct impact on his or her PA.
 
"While it is all well and good cutting out roles and maintaining efficiency, it’s important to recognise the way in which other employees can be affected by one departure. It is easy to look at cuts in isolation but you need to look at the consequences for all the people affected by decisions made within the organisation," advises Hibberd.
 

Clearly there will never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing a redundancy process, but Buckinghamshire County Council has attempted to fit in some key criteria, including long-term planning, open communication and careful consideration of staff.
  

Dealing with redundancies

  1. Apply strategy – carefully plan the areas of the business you want to target, prioritise areas that are vital or where you have the strongest market share.

  2. Communicate with staff – reduce the likelihood of gossip and rumour by keeping employees informed with the progress of the redundancy programme.

  3. Consider actions – a redundancy can effect more than just one person, consider who else could be impacted if someone leaves, be prepared to manage them as well.

  4. Take the long-term approach – unless absolutely necessary, organisations should avoid a quick redundancy programme, instead time should be allocated for strategic planning.

One Response

  1. Consultation is the key

    As someone who has represented thousands of union members against their local authority employer the vital watchword is consultation. This must be done at the beginning, the middle and the end. My advice is not to attempt redundancy of any nature without a lawyer holding your hand. The process is incredibly complex!

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