Redundancy Preparation: Logistics to get it right
In last week’s post, I provided some key tips for HR leaders prior to a large-scale redundancy exercise. As 2018 begins, the news is full of examples of companies conducting lay-offs from Wal-Mart to Hess. The recent bankruptcy of Carillion in the UK may also lead to more job losses.
With that backdrop, this week, I’ll focus on the logistics of how to successfully execute a large-scale redundancy exercise. These tips are useful for an exercise that is conducted within a tight timeframe (typically 1-2 days), with anywhere from 30 to a few hundred employees, and in an organization with a large HR team. I also assume that you are working in a jurisdiction that does not require collective consultation, union negotiations or similar. The tips listed below work well when you have ample time for preparation. Despite many moving parts, the key objective for the HR team should be to stay focused and prepare in advance as much as possible.
Of course, if you’ll be speaking to hundreds of employees on the same day, you’ll need to find some space in which to do it. Depending on the size of your office, you may have enough conference rooms or you may consider renting space at a nearby serviced office or hotel. Here are a few things to think about with both options:
Internal conference rooms - Don’t book conference rooms on the same floor where normal business activity is occurring. If possible, ensure the conference room does not have glass walls and has adequate sound-proofing. The conversations are confidential and should stay that way. Consider the logistics of which employees may cross paths in the hallway or on the staircase. For example, you wouldn’t want a junior employee to see his or her manager being terminated. Another thing to consider is who will book the rooms. If a member of the HR staff books all of the available conference rooms on a specific day(s), that may arouse suspicion from employees. If possible, try to book the rooms under a different name, such as someone from the business area or senior leadership.
External site (hotel, serviced office) - There will be an extra expense to booking space off-site, but it may be unavoidable if your current office doesn’t have enough room to host multiple, back-to-back meetings. An off-site location has the benefit of providing additional confidentiality; employees also don’t have to go back into the office after they’ve been terminated, which some may be grateful for. However, remember that managing the logistics at an off-site location may be more challenging and require more coordination with your managers and within HR.
You can’t predict an employee’s reaction to being told they have lost their job. Some employees are stoic, some are emotional and some get angry. To ensure the safety of your HR team and your managers, it makes sense to ensure that security is on-hand to help de-escalate any issues. This involves having security guards walking the floor, monitoring the entrance/exit to the building, and even having them posted directly outside of the room during a discussion with a potentially difficult employee.
1:1 or group communications
Sometimes, it just isn’t physically possible to speak to each employee individually. Although communicating to employees in a group setting may be impersonal, it is efficient and practical. By ensuring everyone hears the same message, it also helps to reduce the rumor mill that quickly escalates throughout the day as the redundancy meetings progress. On the other hand, more senior employees or those with a long tenure may expect a one-to-one discussion with their manager or HR. These employees may have more complex questions about their benefits and redundancy package; it's a good idea to make additional resources available to speak to them.
Appoint one person to be the owner of the schedule. At my previous employer, multiple business areas were exiting employees on the same day. Some discussions were happening 1:1 and others were happening in large groups. This led to a jostling for room availability as each business wanted to speak with their employees as early in the day as possible. The room booking schedule became a nightmare. Luckily, an HR colleague with military experience stepped in to orchestrate the day’s events, allowing the rest of us to focus on the important tasks of employee and manager care. He created a master schedule on excel that was shared with the group, liaised directly with the room booking staff, and updated us throughout the day with changes. Which leads me to my next point…
All hands on deck
The HR colleague I just mentioned was a Recruiter who typically would not have had any involvement in a redundancy exercise. However, in such a large undertaking, every member of the HR team was called in to assist, whether they worked in a traditional client-facing role or not. So, we had members of the Graduate Recruitment team facilitating the movement of employees from one room to another, members of the Benefits team answering employee’s questions in a conference room, and members of our Operations team on standby to collect documents. Traditional silos of responsibility fell away and everyone lent a hand. This cooperation was critical on a challenging day.
A redundancy conversation can be nerve-wracking for a manager. The best advice is to keep it brief, professional and factual. In order to facilitate this, I recommend HR leaders provide their managers with talking points. In this way, managers 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 change in strategy). HR leaders should coordinate closely with their Communications and Legal teams to ensure the right message is delivered.
At the conclusion of the day, you will have a flood of questions from impacted employees. What happens to my pension? When will I receive my final payment? How do you treat my unused annual leave? To proactively address these types of common queries and reduce the administrative burden on the HR team, I suggest putting together an FAQ document to answer some of these questions and direct employees to the appropriate resource or contact. This FAQ document can be included in an information packet that is given to each employee at the end of their redundancy meeting. Where applicable, it could include the following: redundancy letter, reference letter, outsourcing details, HR contact details, pension forms, annual leave payment calculations, etc..
Periodic Briefing Calls
Lastly, it is a good idea to have regular checkpoint calls during the day with key stakeholders. This could include representatives from HR, the business, the Communications team, and Security. This format gives each party a chance to update on the progress of the meetings, provide feedback on how it has been going and decide on any adjustments that might need to be made during the day. This can be particularly helpful for your Communications team, who will likely be fielding calls from the media after they’ve caught wind of the redundancies.
Executing a large-scale redundancy can be complicated, stressful and difficult for HR professionals and managers alike. A redundancy exercise is not the same as simply pulling a product line or terminating a project; when people are involved, a different level of care, consideration and thoughtfulness must be applied.
After you’ve successfully completed your redundancy communications and head back to your desk, what happens next? What should you say to your remaining team members who want to know what happened and how it impacts them? Next week, I’ll discuss how to address this question.
Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.
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