Delivering his recent spending review, chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that, because of the impact of Covid-19, the UK’s “economic emergency has only just begun”. Businesses across a range of industries face some tough decisions to ensure their survival. Shaving excess costs and reducing outgoings is a good place to start; nearly a fifth of senior UK managers have taken a pay cut during the pandemic.
The time will come, however, when reducing the workforce is the only viable means of keeping a business afloat. The chancellor also announced that although fewer jobs are expected to be lost than initially expected, the number of people out of work is predicted to rise by around a million by mid-2021, taking the unemployment rate to 7.5 per cent – the highest level since the financial crisis in 2009.
Contributing to this number, it’s estimated that as many as a third of companies expect to make staff redundant as they struggle with the financial implications of coronavirus. This can, of course, be a stressful and emotional experience – for employees and their employers – especially when it’s triggered by unforeseen circumstances.
Employers have a legal responsibility to guide those facing redundancy through the process respectfully. Knowing what’s required of you as a business, and helping employees understand their rights, will clear the way to fair negotiations. Clarity and consultation are therefore key to empowering employees with the information they need.
Clear and consistent communication
Unwelcome as it is, redundancy should never come as a surprise to an employee. Clear and consistent written and verbal communication is essential to giving advance warning of what’s to come, and to ensuring employees understand each step of the process, ideally before it even gets underway.
The tone of this communication may need to vary depending on how the news is received by different employees, though. Fear and anger, for example, are both natural responses to such an announcement. Identifying these responses will allow you to apply the appropriate empathy and sensitivity when discussing the business reasons behind the decision. Indeed, certain key points may need to be repeated or presented differently to make sure they’re understood and, ultimately, accepted.
This clarity and consistency is particularly important as redundancies are eventually confirmed. Employees need confirmation that the redundancy is proceeding, as lingering doubts will only make an already stressful situation even more unpleasant. They also need to be made fully aware of their right of appeal, any alternatives available, such as restructuring, retraining or revised conditions, and what ongoing support they’ll receive.
A collaborative approach is useful here. While the consultation process itself is an opportunity to present the business case and the available options, it’s also a chance for employees to express their views and concerns. Making consultations a two-way conversation will help you allay an employee’s concerns while communicating the right messages around what’s happening, why it’s happening and what the next steps are.
Consultations are a vital part of the redundancy process. Not only do they allow for greater transparency, trust and understanding for both parties but – importantly – without one you run the risk of exposing your business to an employment tribunal claim.
As mentioned, empathy and sensitivity are paramount. Redundancy is naturally an emotive situation; the feelings of uncertainty around the current economic environment only exacerbate this. It’s important, then, that in addition to listening to the concerns of affected employees, you do more than simply pay lip service to the notion of support.
Businesses should have adequate support mechanisms available to help employees through the entire redundancy process, at a time when they feel exceptionally vulnerable. A dedicated HR specialist, for example, can prove invaluable in offering practical transitional steps, such as assisting in the creation of a robust CV, identifying possible external vacancies through their established network, providing interview training and ensuring the employee has sufficient financial resources.
Such specialists can support you too in managing the process, especially communicating with employees and other concerned stakeholders within the business. Redundancy can be hard for the managers making the decisions too. Having an independent confidant onside can help shoulder the burden. In times like this, employers owe themselves a duty of care as well as their employees.
Redundancy is often a last resort. When faced with having to make staff redundant, clear, consistent – and collaborative – communication is crucial from the offset and throughout: from describing the business case, to outlining how you’ll support employees through the process and beyond. These are uncertain times in which we are living, which has forced us to make uncomfortable decisions. Business leaders must do what they can to deliver the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
Jonathan Richards is CEO and co-founder of breathe