DON'T GO OFF SCRIPT... When making someone redundant
Sometimes you need just the right words. Like when you are proposing to your future spouse or giving the eulogy at your grandmother’s funeral. Or when you are firing someone.
The spread of the coronavirus in Hong Kong has hit businesses hard. As companies have started announcing layoffs to cut costs and stabilize their businesses, the months of protests and the spread of the coronavirus have proven to be a double whammy. Some companies are in pure survival mode, as they beg landlords for rent decreases, defer paying suppliers and are forced to make staff redundant.
In these stressful times, most managers don’t give much thought to how they will actually communicate the redundancy to their employees. Once the decision is made, you just need to get it done, right?
But what will you actually say when you are sitting face-to-face with a member of your team, letting them know they no longer have a job? You don’t want to hem and haw or lose your train of thought. This is probably one of the most difficult conversations the employee will ever have. The least you can do is prepare and make it professional.
A redundancy conversation can be nerve-wracking for a manager. The best advice is to keep it brief, professional and factual. To make sure the conversation is as smooth and painless as possible (for both you and the employee!), I recommend drafting some talking points or even a full-blown script.
Need help? Download my free script template here. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.
A script will ensure that you won’t get off track and say something that could put the company at risk or confuse the employee (such as, “I promise to renegotiate your package.” Or, “I don’t agree with this and I’ll try to get your job back.”).
As much as possible, the talking points should reference the broader business climate that led to the decision (such as cost-cutting, restructuring or a change in strategy). At larger organizations, you can get advice from your Communications, Legal and HR teams to ensure the right message is delivered. Of course, this is assuming that you’ve already used the appropriate selection criteria and done your due diligence to ensure you have chosen the appropriate employees to be made redundant.
Here are some other tips to make sure the conversation with your team goes smoothly.
Find a quiet place If you work in an open-plan office, find somewhere quiet and as confidential as possible to break the news to your team. At my ex-employer, we had a video camera in each of the meeting rooms that linked directly to TV screens in the pantry area. This was so everyone could see if a meeting room was occupied before trying to book it. Although this was convenient on an everyday basis, it was disastrous for any type of confidential meeting.
It is worthwhile to consider having the conversation off-site as well. Sometimes it is easier to break the news over breakfast or in a coffee shop where both parties feel more comfortable.
Make extra time
You may have a long list of employees to speak to in one day. You’ll be tempted to schedule these meetings into 15-minute time slots so you can get it all over with as quickly as possible. Don’t. Some employees will be more upset and want time to digest the news. Others will have a lot of questions or will just be shocked and need to sit for a while. For some, this might be one of the worst days of their life. The least you can do is build in a little extra time in your schedule to sit with them and show your empathy.
Personalize it (within reason)
Remember the film Up in the Air? George Clooney and Anna Kendrick fly around the U.S., firing people, day-in and day-out. Eventually, Kendrick comes up with a brilliant idea to automate the whole process, giving a call center employee a script and a video camera to conduct virtual terminations. This is a terrible idea for so many reasons. A redundancy conversation doesn’t have to be robotic. You can still add a bit of personal warmth and empathy. Just be careful not to veer too far from your talking points. You don’t want to land yourself or your company in legal trouble.
If you’ve spent any time working with your HR partner, they’ve probably told you numerous times to document, document, document. Documentation is important for things like performance management, discussions around promotions, conflicts between team members and certainly for redundancy conversations. Documentation becomes a critical factor if an employee later raises a claim against their employer. Immediately following the redundancy meeting, jot down the highlights of the conversation (it doesn’t need to be verbatim) and send an email to your HR partner. If there were any follow-up items, make sure they get answered and either you or your HR partner revert to the employee. This is particularly important if the conversation goes b-a-d-l-y (such as the employee threatening to sue, or bringing up a claim of harassment by their manager). If that’s the case, then the redundancy is just the beginning of your interactions with this employee. Clear and detailed documentation will be your new best friend.
Remember that although the redundancy conversation will be hard for you, it will be even harder for the employee who is hearing it. If you follow these tips and find a quiet place for the meeting, make extra time to speak with the employee, personalize the message and document your discussion, both you and the employee will have a better outcome.
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Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIN!
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