Advice

How to break the news of redundancies

23 Nov 2000 By J. Rothwell

Redundancy is a fact of life for most companies. But how can you undertake the unpleasant task of terminating jobs while ensuring that the company remains an employer of choice?

Telling employees that their employment has come to an end is likely to be a painful experience for everyone involved. Even so, once the business decision has been taken, it should be viewed objectively and managed professionally, sensitively and skilfully. 

Every member of staff deserves a high degree of compassion and consideration. Careful planning and well-structured meetings will go a long way towards ensuring that the employee leaves with dignity and respect.

The objective is to minimise the stress on employees who are departing, while promoting an image of care and minimising the impact of the redundancies on the morale of those remaining.

It is crucial that both HR staff and line managers fully understand the reasons for redundancy. They also need to know that the decision has the support of senior management and the ratification of legal advisers.

Whatever the reason for redundancy, the selection criteria must be fair and non-discriminatory. This is not only for legal reasons – it is important that whoever is delivering the message can explain the reasons confidently, clearly and concisely. Making the process as transparent as possible will maximise the opportunity for the organisation to present itself in a professional light both to its employees and the market.

Knowing what you intend to say and thinking through the possible reactions to this news is essential – these could range from shock or anger to relief and happiness. Consider your response to any awkward questions. Write down a structure for the meeting: set the scene, deliver the news, talk about the future and then bring the meeting to a close. If this is a manager’s first time, a rehearsal would be beneficial.

Choose a neutral place, preferably away from the individual’s working area, where the interview can be handled privately and without the risk of interruptions. Try to avoid meeting across a desk and arrange chairs in such a way that the individual has a feeling of space and can avoid eye contact – there may be some emotion to express. Ideally, the meeting will take place on a one-to-one basis, although it is often acceptable for both the line manager and an HR manager to be present. Consider making tea, coffee or water available.

Good employers treat their employees as individuals, so you need to know some personal information. The basics such as age, job title, length of service, address, salary and benefits should be ascertained before the meeting takes place. It is also helpful to know their personal circumstances: do they have a partner or are they single? Do they have any health issues or financial problems? These can affect how they react. Be certain to check on the legal situation of pregnant women or employees who have been on long-term sickness absence. 

Timing is an important consideration. Be fair to individuals by choosing a day or time that will provide space for them to absorb the news before going home (see sub-section below).

You cannot assume that the individual will take in anything after being given the news that they have lost their job. So it is important to plan a further discussion, perhaps a day or two later, when thoughts have become clearer. This will provide an opportunity to ask questions about the termination package, references and any other aspects of their departure.

In some instances, it is necessary to ask the individual to leave immediately. If so, be sensitive to their emotional state. For example, are they fit enough to drive home? Having concluded the meeting, the individual will need to know where to go next. Can they return to their desks? Should they be accompanied? If they cannot return, or do not want to, who will bring their personal belongings to the meeting room?

Communication

News of redundancies will quickly spread around the company and rumours will inevitably circulate.

As soon as possible, communicate the news to immediate colleagues, associated departmental heads (for example, IT, payroll and security) and whoever else needs to know. Use the opportunity to state your appreciation of their contribution in these difficult times. Let them know how to respond to phone calls and queries that come through for individuals who have left the company, without going into underlying reasons for their departure.

Where the media might show interest in the redundancies, consider producing a press release and arranging for inquiries to be handled by a specific person. You may choose to approach the press proactively to clarify your position. It will enhance the organisation’s image if you can publicise its responsible approach to individuals affected by redundancies. 

Employees who remain may show a variety of reactions about their colleagues – shock, anger, guilt, disbelief and even relief. They will also be anxious about their own future, and these issues must be addressed immediately. Their commitment to the business decision is essential for the company to achieve its objective without reduced productivity. 

Providing outplacement support through an external career management company is common practice in major organisations. This not only helps the ex-employee to find another job but also ensures that the company’s reputation is maintained. It gives a positive message to those remaining with the organisation – this is a company that puts people first.

Communication needs to increase. Line managers should be able to talk through individual issues and be visible. This is no time to hide behind a closed door.

Redundancy is not a pleasant experience. But if staff feel they were treated fairly and professionally, they may leave the company with few hard feelings. n

Redundancy checklist

There are legal requirements that need consideration, so it is essential to take proper advice from a lawyer on these issues.

  • The employer is required to have a 90-day consultation period between telling an employee that their position has been made redundant and confirming that they will no longer be employed by the company. During this period, it may be possible to find the employee another suitable position within the company. Employees are entitled to elect representatives to handle consultation. But the individual must also be notified.

  • The individual’s employment contract must be adhered to. For example, what are the terms of the notice period? Does the company’s redundancy policy give employees the statutory terms or enhanced terms? There may be a compromise agreement to be offered to the employee, which will include items such as:
    • whether the employee is required to work during the notice period, whether they will be on garden leave, or leaving immediately and paid in lieu for their notice period;
    • restrictions on being able to approach other employees to offer them alternative employment;
    • employees’ obligations to the company in terms of confidentiality;
    • waiving rights to make claims against the company in the future.

Parting words

A prepared letter should be handed out at the meeting. This should be checked by your legal advisers, addressed personally to the individual and might include the following:

  • confirmation of the reason for redundancy;
  • the date of departure – whether the individual will be leaving immediately or working through their notice period;
  • financial details – for example, pay in lieu of notice, outstanding salary, accrued holiday pay, bonus considerations and so on;
  • details of outplacement facilities and support;
  • information on how and when any separation payment will be made;
  • company policy towards benefits such as company car, private medical insurance, pension and life cover or share-option scheme;
  • the return of company property such as laptop, mobile phone and security passes.

The individual should receive a duplicate of the letter to sign and return by an agreed date. This confirms acceptance of the terms and conditions regarding the termination of employment.

The don'ts of delivery

  • Don’t conduct these meeting without privately rehearsing exactly what you are going to say.
  • Don’t talk about your needs, feelings or problems.
  • Don’t criticise the organisation’s business strategies or senior management.
  • Don’t shout, even if the employee does!
  • Don’t say to the employee “I know how you feel”, because you don’t.
  • Don’t imply that this news is a blessing in disguise.
  • Don’t rush through the meeting because you are feeling uncomfortable. Take time to answer questions and remember that this is the last impression the individual will have of the company.
  • Don’t make promises that you won’t be able to keep.

Notes

  • Communication needs to be increased. Line managers should be able to talk through individual issues. Be visible. This is no time to hide behind a closed door.

  • There is no good time to conduct a redundancy meeting, but try to avoid Friday afternoon and be sensitive to people who live alone or who might not have anyone to share their feelings with.

  • Avoid the end of the working day, as well as significant dates such as birthdays, anniversaries or the eve of a holiday. 

  • Consider when the individual will be able to return to their desk, collect their belongings and leave with dignity. 

  • When several individuals are affected, check that they are all present; resolve in advance how to deal with absentees.

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