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Elaine Hopkins


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Talking Point: Isn’t there a better way to make redundancies?


A huge 2.7 million people in the UK have been made redundant over the last three years. 

But as shocking as that statistic is, even more shocking is the fact that the current model for making such redundancies isn’t mandated by law, is unnecessary, and is as harmful for those taking such action (organisations, HR and line managers) as it is for those on the receiving end.
This conclusion isn’t based on academic, statistical research, however, but more on anecdote – although it is no less valuable for all that. Statistics can very easily become meaningless, while stories tend to stay with us.
Annabel Kaye, managing director of employment law specialists, Irenicon, for one, has formulated precisely what’s wrong with the current compliance-only model of redundancy.
In her view: “Communication in redundancy now exists solely at the level of ‘What do we need to do to ensure that we don’t get sued?’. It’s the Trade Descriptions Act approach to redundancy.”
But such an approach is damaging to those making the redundancies (HR and line managers), to the staff left behind and to general organisational health. It also does not do the company’s reputation or its ability to recruit in future any good.  
At some point, organisations seem to have fallen in love – seriously and serially – with compromise agreements, even though they don’t work.
Even if we put to one side Kaye’s contention that two-thirds of such agreements are unenforceable in law, they still aren’t fit for purpose. Why? Because people talk, compromise agreement or not – and when they talk, the company’s reputation suffers.
Ability to recruit in future
Any bad-mouthing of the company will affect your ability to recruit as will the fact that there is a growing number of talented individuals, who will choose never to return to corporate life post-redundancy. While this may not be such an issue in the current economic climate, things won’t stay the same forever.
HR and line managers, remaining staff and organisational health issues
These three categories can be considered together as redundancy isn’t an isolated incident that takes place behind closed doors – it’s something that affects everyone in the organisation. 
The reason for this is known as ‘emotional contagion’, which is a completely involuntary response that is hard-wired into the brain. It pre-dates language and was one of the primary survival mechanisms of our primitive ancestors. It is also the precursor to kindness. 
But, as its name suggests, emotional contagion spreads. Research shows that, when individuals spend time with others – as they do in workplaces – their emotions rub off on one another, and ra-ra meetings or reassuring messages coming down from on high will not change that.
A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggested that 58% of employees were not engaged at work because of the unethical behaviour and corrosive cultures evidenced in the corporate world at large.
But the treatment meted out to former colleagues and fear that the same may happen to them is also likely to play its part.
Emotional contagion has an equally disastrous effect on the HR and line managers deputed to do the deed, however. The problem is that, if human beings are wired to be kind, asking them to ignore or even deny the suffering of others, means asking them to override their basic human instincts. 
A more respectful model
So what might a more compassionate and respectful model look like? Murielle Maupoint and Dorothy Newton are two individuals who have worked in the charity sector for relatively small organisations and have carried through redundancies with respect. 
Therefore, if considered together with Annabel Kaye, they could have quite a lot to teach us. Annabel’s three golden rules for making redundancies are:
  1. Decide the scale and scope of the desired job cuts
  2. Establish which method you are going to use and implement it fairly and objectively
  3. Consider what, when, how and to whom you’re going to communicate, taking into account those employees who for one reason or another (sick leave, holidays, maternity/paternity leave) will be absent on the day of the announcement.
Now let’s add in some of Maupoint and Newton’s observations:
What could redundancy be like if we:
…..assumed personal responsibility?
“People can hide behind HR, but for me redundancy is a very personal thing. I felt huge pride and satisfaction when employees left us with a smile on their face.”
…..treated redundancy as an integral part of the employment experience?
“Redundancy isn’t an isolated incident, it’s part and parcel of the whole employment experience.”
…..managed performance properly?
“If you manage performance well and respond appropriately, then dismissals should be a rarity. There should be an on-going discussion in which redundancy is one possible option. As the future plays out, the options narrow.”
…..took redundancy communication seriously?
“If you don’t know something, say so. But do tell people what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, what the worst case scenario would be, and what you’re putting in place to manage that.”
…..used the charitable sector model as a starting point?
“Large organisations get stuck in the process. However, I do think there’s a middle ground between what I did and what corporates do, although there’d need to be a willingness to move towards it as well as a culture to support it.”
While such thoughts are currently sketchy, they could form the basis for a more humane and effective model of redundancy that would benefit us all. Do you have any ideas to add?

Elaine Hopkins is a corporate coach and author of Redundancy Sucks!, which was published today.

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Elaine Hopkins


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