Nothing impacts an employer brand more visibly than how a company handles workforce reduction. The manner in which a business treats its people during this time, speaks volumes to employees, current and future, about its ethics, beliefs and business priorities.

No HR Manager wants the unenviable task of having to manage a program of redundancies, be it for one individual or a hundred, but planned well, redundancy can be turned into a vehicle for communicating to staff how a company values its people, and its commitment to their future.

Steps to Send a Positive Message During Downsizing

Collaborate: Work collaboratively with the Legal and Communications Departments during the script development to ensure that the message not only is legally compliant and appropriate but that it conveys the right tone and messages.

It is possible to show compassion and care when delivering the news and still protect the company from litigation but it requires forethought and time put into developing the script the right way.  Work with your Legal people to do this.

Plan: During the planning of the program take all the possible steps you can to make it as easy as possible for your people receiving the news on the day. Have all relevant information in writing (and approved by Legal) so that they can refer to it later as often people are unable to take in information verbally when in shock.  Ensure information is in plain language and clear, and include information and contact details for EAP assistance or an organisation like Beyond Blue.

Pay attention to the little things that can make a difference including access to plenty of tissues and water in the room, and some taxi vouchers on hand in case someone is not in a safe state emotionally to drive home. Ideally have a career professional from an outplacement company onsite for the person to talk with after the news has been broken. It enables the person to express their immediate reactions and feelings freely without being judged.

Protect: Take all steps to protect the dignity of the individual. Pick the space and setting so that they have privacy, quiet and enough time to process the information without feeling rushed.  Provide them with an area they can leave discreetly (particularly as they may be upset) so that they don’t have to feel like they are on parade. Have options for how they would like to collect their belongings and return company property.  Consider in advance how the company will handle timing for the return of company vehicles, phones and other devices.

Deliver it Right: Who delivers the message is as important a decision as the content of the message. Depending on the circumstances this maybe the CEO, a Direct Manager, the HR Manager or a combination of these people.  It’s important for leadership to be visible during change and difficult times. Try to make sure that the message is delivered in easy to understand language and clearly explains why the decision has been made. If it’s a redundancy, it’s important people take in that the decision was not performance-related to alleviate doubt and shame.  It’s amazing the difference it makes when someone really understands that it was their position that was made redundant not them.

Support: Plan support both for your people leaving and those staying. Make an effort to acknowledge the contributions of your people leaving and if possible involve the person in planning the exit process.  For some people a morning tea farewell can help with closure and honour their contributions. For others it’s too much and they prefer to leave quietly.   Work with your people to make their exit as personally painless and dignified as possible. Its important to remember that the workplace for many is more than a job, its where they spend their days, where their friends are and for long-term employees can be a significant part of their identity and as such grief is a real aspect of redundancy. A morning tea can send the message the role may no longer exist but the relationships still do.

Communicate: Don’t forget your remaining people will also be dealing with the news. Enable them the opportunity to talk about it and help them understand your vision for the future and their part in it. Communicate openly and regularly as this can help eliminate fear of the unknown and restore confidence in the future.  Work with your communication department during the planning process to build a strategy that will convey to your people the steps taken to care for staff, past and future during this time.

Read Also: Downsizing Recovery – Having Positive Career Conversations

Finally take care of yourself during and after the process, as HR carry a lot of pressure during this time and are often the forgotten incidental victims during difficult times. Find ways to minimise the impact of the stress through exercise or time out doing things you love. Your people will be better looked after if you are strong, resilient and healthy.

I wish you a future of health, happiness and career satisfaction. 

* The information provided in this article is general advice only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, situation or needs. Before acting on this advice you should consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to your own objectives, situation and needs. Outplacement Australia disclaim all and any guarantees, undertakings and warranties, expressed or implied, and shall not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever (including human or computer error, negligent or otherwise, or incidental or consequential loss or damage) arising out of or in connection with any use or reliance on the information or advice in this article. The user must accept sole responsibility associated with the use of the material, irrespective of the purpose for which such use or results are applied. The information is no substitute for legal, financial or career advice.