Redundancy Restructures

5 tips on retrenching employees with dignity

Many managers and HR professional say that retrenching an employee is one of the most difficult tasks that they have faced. These same people have also experienced the wider consequences of individuals or organisations handling terminations poorly.

These consequences include:

  1. Legal action filed by disgruntled ex-employees
  2. Morale problems among the remaining staff and often an enduring impact on engagement
  3. High staff turnover costs as 'surviving' employees leave the orgainsation after witnessing the way in which affected employees were treated
  4. Destruction of the employment brand or reputation of the organisation— reducing capacity to attract talent
  5. Lengthy vacancies as a result of diminished employer brand
  6. Difficulty in operating the business effectively during the process, including the inability to retain key clients and accounts.

Below are 5 elements that will assist you in retrenching employees with dignity and ensure an effective termination process:

1. Be prepared

  • The better prepared you are, the easier the process will be for everyone
  • Make sure you've reviewed the termination process with someone well versed in employment law
  • Rehearse what you're going to say to each affected individual
  • Anticipate questions the person may have and practice your answers
  • If you have a career transition provider, ask them to coach your managers on how to communicate the message to their staff

You should also have a communication strategy ready with key messages for each stakeholder group, in preparation for announcing the termination to the remaining staff, customers, clients and other stakeholders.

Thoroughly check each individual’s employment contract, related documents and other personal records – it could be devastating, for instance to terminate someone on a special date or birthday. There may also be individual “deals” done with an employee to secure them at the recruitment stage, which may be over and above standard terms and conditions of employment.

If you are concerned the employee may become angry or violent, contacting security for suggestions on handling the meeting and afterwards can be helpful.

2. Be compassionate

The termination meeting should be conducted calmly and professionally. Being terminated may make the employee feel rejected, worthless, embarrassed or guilty, so it is important to minimise these feelings as much as possible. Also, former employees may be more likely to take legal action if they're angry at the way their employment was terminated and are more likely to damage the brand of an employer through the way they describe their experience to the external world, which may include current or prospective clients, shareholders or others who may have an influence over the business.

Think about how the person may respond to the information you are giving them. Think about how you would feel if you were them. Ensure you have a professional career transition consultant on hand to provide immediate support to the individual.

3. Be clear

Stay focused, succinct and clear, with the information that you are providing and don’t get dragged into an analysis of the past.  Even if employees “knew it was coming”.

Ensure you have as many 'facts' as possible before approaching each affected individual. This will help you to provide clear, succinct communication and allow you to cover off all issues that are important to the employee.

4. Orient the individual towards the future

Employees whose roles are being made redundant, even when they know it's coming, often try to deal with hurt feelings by asking many questions about various issues that led up to the termination. Offering career transition/outplacement support or other services will help the terminated employee transition positively to his or her next stage of their career and orient them toward the future.

5. Maintain the individual's self-esteem

Some easy ways to assist individuals to maintain their dignity and self-esteem during and after the meeting include:

  • Ask the affected individual how they are and wait for a reply after the news has been delivered
  • Take the affected individual's concerns seriously
  • Recognise that this is likely to be an important event in the employee's life and treat it as such
  • Be respectful and courteous of the way in which the employee responds to the news
  • Be empathetic, not sympathetic
  • Demonstrate active listening
Remember that your own behaviour, in showing compassion and treating affected employees with respect and dignity, will ease the difficulty of the situation for the individual and will reduce risks for the organisation in the future.

Now we would like to hear from you. Please share below your experience in dealing with a dignified (or undignified!) redundancy meeting. Which side of the table were you on? 

How to manage a restructure for HR professionals

Restructure Series: s to employees