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Redundancy Preparation: Tips for HR Leaders

It was 6pm on the night before we eliminated one-third of our employees in a large redundancy exercise. I was conducting the final briefing with managers in a conference room. Their devices went untouched, left face-down on the table. Their questions were pointed and exact. The gravity in their eyes reflected the seriousness of the situation. They wanted to discuss the messaging, the timetable, the process, one more time to make sure they didn’t make a mistake or say the wrong thing.

It was the one time that I had their full, undivided attention. I had sat around the same conference room table with the same group of managers numerous times to discuss other HR matters: performance management, compensation, hiring, training and development. This time it was different. We were talking about their peers, their team, people they had hired, mentored, promoted… friends. The following day these people would be made redundant and they wanted to make sure we did it right… professionally and with dignity. Most of these managers were twenty years my senior with distinguished, challenging careers. Still, most had never done this—told someone they no longer had a job, no longer had a way to support their families. They were scared.

As an HR leader in an industry that is constantly in flux, I have seen large-scale redundancy exercises become the norm rather than the exception. If you’ve never been in this situation, I hope you never have to be. However, if you find yourself sitting around this conference room table, here are a few tips to help you navigate the briefing meeting with managers.

Demonstrate confidence

Whether this is your first time conducting a large-scale redundancy exercise or your fiftieth, your managers will look to you as the subject matter expert on how to get it done. During my first briefing session with managers, I was nervous and disorganized, shuffling around papers and unsure how to structure the discussion. But they sat patiently and waited me out. Their questions helped guide the discussion and we hit on all of the salient points. No matter what, this is a situation where you know more than they do and they are looking for guidance. Give it to them.

Be empathetic

For some of your managers, this will be the first time they have told an employee that they no longer have a job. Despite their years of experience negotiating with tough clients or closing huge deals, likely nothing has prepared them for this. As their HR partner, they will look to you for empathy and understanding.

Answer any last-minute questions

At this point in time, no question is too small. Have we really chosen the right employees? How is the package calculated again? What should I do after I speak to the employee? What if the employee refuses to leave? Equip your managers with all of the information they need to make their discussions as painless as possible.

Be available for 1:1 agonizing

Just like in school, some managers won’t be comfortable asking questions in a group setting. Many managers will call me as soon as I return to my desk after a briefing session. They don’t only want to speak about the logistics and practicalities of the day, but also the emotional toll. Let them talk. Often, there is no real solution available at this point in the process. They just want to be listened to.

Remind managers where they are supposed to be and when

If there are hundreds of employees being spoken to on the same day, a misplaced manager can throw everything off. There is nothing worse than having an employee waiting in a room for their communication and not being able to locate the manager who is supposed to speak to them. Therefore, make sure the manager knows which room he is supposed to be in, on which floor, at what time. If things are running early or late, have an agreed method to connect (message, email, phone), based on where the manager is likely to be.

Terminating employees is never easy, whether it’s due to performance issues, misconduct or a large redundancy exercise. Much is written about how to make the experience easier for employees but tips for managers are hard to find. As HR professionals, providing support to the employees who stay is just as important as providing support to those who are leaving. At no time was this more important to me than during that meeting that evening. There was no way to change the outcome, but hopefully, I was able to make the conversations a little less painful for both managers delivering the message and employees receiving it.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the important logistics you should plan for when preparing for a large redundancy exercise at your company.

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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