Organisational change can be triggered by a host of different reasons, including acquisitions, mergers, divestments, downsizing, new business ventures, geographic and international growth (or retreat), restructuring, shifts in markets and services. Change can also be the consequence of performance issues in individuals and business units or changes to a business’ leadership, such as a new CEO.
HR's role in redundancies
When these events occur, human resources professionals are relied upon to handle the bulk of the work. To shape communications, advise on new organisational structures and accountabilities and on remuneration and redeployment options. Another key element of the HR role in times of redundancies is to develop the policies and programs around the treatment and relocation of affected employees. What’s more, ensuring effective governance over formal obligations in times of change can be a difficult task. Poorly thought through actions can seriously impact a major change project.
There is, however, another critical accountability, that is often less considered by organisations. That is the guidance of managers in dealing with the human aspects of an organisational change. The objective here is to guide change with humanity.
Advice in this area is often not sought by line managers, or given as well as it might be by HR professionals. It is important to avoid giving generic or process driven advice, rather than individually tailored advice for the managers implementing changes and their teams.
Major downsizing or redeployments can create significant stress and uncertainty for large numbers of individuals simply by the way they and others around them are treated. Companies can be turned into transactional, disengaged workplaces by the way the change is handled at all levels of the organisation. This can end in cynicism as people observe these same companies promoting new values around people and integrity in a cultural “rebirth” following a significant change.
How can HR professionals move more confidently to give respected advice on leading change with humanity? How can HR professionals redefine the organisational change process to ensure individuals are treated with humanity and respect in times of change?
We explore answers to these questions as we guide you on how to manage a restructure, sharing our insights on topics such as:
- What job loss can mean for individuals
- How best to communicate restructures and redundancies to employees
- How to retrench an employee with dignity
- How to make sure your career transition supplier supports people after job loss
- What happens following a redundancy - taking care of survivors
What job loss can mean for individuals
For employees in the modern world, the pressures of holding down a ‘good’ job and climbing the career ladder are endless. The climb to the top requires huge sacrifices in time and mental energy, in persistence and commitment. On top of that, peer pressure and organisational expectations operate to keep you feeling the pressure.
Then there are the implications of the commitments attached to full-time employment. Salaries are often associated with mortgages and lifestyles that could not easily be maintained should an individual lose their job. One’s lifestyle, as much as their job, the title and the rewards often become a major part of one’s identity and ‘keeping it all together’.
In this context, the arrival of someone with the advice that “I am sorry, but we are going to have to let you go” is a truly shattering event for most people.
Some people in this situation operate with surface control, however, most people are shaken and disoriented. Issues of self-identity, structure, relationships, and concerns about money and security swirl around and cannot be quickly or easily resolved.
Nevertheless, many of these people, especially those given professional support, can move forward effectively to transition to the next stage of their career. Even perhaps able to “liberate” new and better futures for themselves. In that sense, the event of retrenchment can also have a liberating aspect: it is an opportunity to question one’s past model, or self-identity, and to blaze a new career path.
It is very rewarding, as a business providing such support, to witness and be a part of an employee’s transition in this way. For most individuals, a great deal of exploration and dialogue, with others as well as with us forms a part of this new journey. Creating the space to explore and reflect on signature strengths and new opportunities is critical.
The conclusion here is that a large part of self-identity is bound up tightly with one’s job or profession. Despite the brave face worn by many who are impacted by job loss, the loss of a role or profession is traumatic. Appropriate comprehensive professional support can often have a significant positive impact in the career transition and self-identity journey.
Recognise the impact on those affected
Our experiences working with individuals after job loss has shown us that it is imperative for leaders and HR professionals to be visible and available when letting people go.
We all live multi-layered lives. We are adults, partners and friends. We also see ourselves belonging to different groups such as our organisation, profession and community. These different levels of living are in a delicate balance, with stress in one area likely to weaken the balance and synergy across the whole spectrum.
A big step towards undertaking a restructure with humanity will occur if these complexities are understood and considered by the person leading the change and the supporting HR professionals. This may be something as simple as allowing an individual time to think through the issues presented and at the very least it means taking a genuine interest in each affected employee.
A closure or a downsizing should not be an excuse for leaders to go into hiding. It’s an occasion when people need to see their leaders: to hear the bad news from them personally. Leaders need to have the courage, and treat employees with the respect this situation demands.
Now, we'd like to hear from you! What has been your experience with restructures and redundancies? Have you been made redundant? Made people redundant? Share your insights with us below.