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Colborn’s Corner: Managing redundancies


Quentin Colborn Reports from the CIPD and many other commentators suggest that the growth of job losses will continue, indeed may speed up, in the new year. So Quentin Colborn asks, what will be the implications for HR teams? How well geared up are we to handle large-scale job losses?




Plenty has been written on these pages and elsewhere on the technical aspects of handling redundancies. If there are HR people out there who do not know the requirements of consultation and the issues surrounding selection procedures they should hang their heads in shame!

This column is not designed to fill in the gaps of technical knowledge. However, what I would question is how well HR people, as well as line managers, are equipped to handle the organisational aspects of large-scale redundancies.


"We may be legally compliant, but does that mean we are serving the best interests of those involved?"

Firstly we need to differentiate between the niceties of employment law and the realities of people relationships. Quite correctly we will tell line managers that it is roles that are made redundant, not people.

However, at the end of the day it is people who loose their jobs – no matter how correct the decision may be. So how do we go about handling the people aspects of redundancies? We may be legally compliant, but does that mean we are serving the best interests of those involved?

My belief is that in redundancy situations there are normally three constituent groups whose needs should be reflected. The employees affected, unaffected employees and external customers/suppliers. An effective redundancy programme will address the needs of all three groups. In many situations I think employers underestimate the impact of redundancies on those who are notionally unaffected. Two main aspects come into play here, firstly survivors' guilt and secondly the perception they have of the way management has handled the redundancies.

Survivors' guilt

Survivors' guilt as a concept is often applied to traumatic events involving death and injury and while redundancy cannot ever be on that scale, there are similarities in the impact. Some employees may simply feel they were lucky not to be selected for redundancy; others may put their non-selection down to their skills and abilities, but some others don't see it that way and worry about the impact on their ex-colleagues and somehow feel they bear personal responsibility. To my mind, the responsibility of those managing redundancies is to ensure that there is a clear message that redundancies are not a substitute for performance management, but simply a sad reflection of economic times.

I hold the basic premise that employees are not stupid. In the context of redundancies this frequently means that employees are expecting redundancies and so when announced it is no great surprise. What this also means is that employees watch what happens to their ex-colleagues and see the way they are treated.


"While we may not be able to change the external world, the way we handle the individuals is crucial."

While many employers do not have big budgets for outplacement support, all employees should be treated with dignity and respect. Fail to do that and the employer will often loose the respect of those who are remaining. Often morale is fragile after redundancies and anything that further dampens morale will be damaging to the business that is often struggling with economic pressures.

While often not the responsibility of HR, businesses do well to manage communication with customers and suppliers during redundancy exercises. In today’s climate, maintaining the confidence of suppliers may be crucial to commercial survival – a badly-managed and communicated redundancy programme could result in credit being reduced with the unwanted pressure that brings.

Much has been written about the impact of redundancy on individuals from a legal perspective, as well as the psychological impact. As HR professionals we do well to remember that we are dealing with people here, not just jobs. While we may not be able to change the external world, the way we handle the individuals is crucial. How many times do we ensure that departing employees are thanked for their contribution and wished well for the future? It costs nothing, and if handled sensitively, can be really reassuring to the person who has to go.

What is your experience of the handling of redundancies? What examples of good and bad practice can you share with colleagues on to help them manage their processes better? Alternatively, have you ever been on the receiving end of redundancy and have lessons that others can learn? Please share your views and experiences with us.


Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or email: [email protected]. For more information, visit:


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