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Redundancy: How to manage the survivors

PA Consulting Group
HR Zone
11 November 2008

Redundancies are on the increase. This past September, the CIPD legal helpline saw a big surge in calls regarding redundancies and economists are predicting a significant increase in the UK unemployment rate by Christmas. It is an area of work that no HR professional enjoys.

Typically, organisations will focus their efforts on the leavers but neglect those who stay employed. But, it is hardly surprising that during a redundancy programme, all employees feel disenchanted and pessimistic about the present and the future. Survivors feel guilty and sympathetic towards those colleagues and friends who are leaving; managers witness dips in morale and an increase in stress levels. As more and more employees leave the organisation, remaining staff are asked to pick up their colleagues' workloads so stress levels and disenchantment continue to spiral.

"A key challenge for HR is how to motivate remaining employees, who feel disillusioned about the organisation they work for."

This impact on the surviving workforce is likely to have a detrimental short-term effect on organisational performance and individual motivation. More importantly, employees' commitment and co-operation will be effected in the long-term and so too will the organisation's ability to survive and build a strong business going forward.

A key challenge for HR is how to motivate remaining employees, who feel disillusioned about the organisation they work for. Managers will need to do all they can to ensure that employees who remain in the organisation are positive about the way in which the process was managed. Fundamentally, much of this depends on how the actual redundancy situation is handled in the first place.

Communicate clearly the reasons for redundancies and what happens next

Employees are more likely to accept a decision about redundancy if they receive a genuine reason for it. Communicate a clear and consistent explanation of the reasons for redundancy, what actions your organisation is going to take next and the support that will be available to those who are leaving.

Use a visible, fair and equitable process to deal with redundancies

There are legal requirements to redundancy programmes and if followed, this should ensure your organisation is implementing a fair process. Remember however, employee perception is key and will deeply affect how they feel about the organisation.

Here at PA, our experience with clients has shown that employee involvement in the redundancy process, whether with the individual directly or through union representatives, can change an employee's perception about fairness. This in turn affects their commitment and loyalty to the organisation. Were employees and reps properly consulted to influence selection criteria? Were affected employees given options on redeployment and relocation? Was outplacement support provided?

"Survivors will be affected regardless that they are not on the redundancy 'list'."

Naturally, remaining staff will continue to be concerned about their own jobs and worry about whether they are safe. If however further changes are made in the future, there will be some comfort in knowing that your organisation treats its employees fairly.

Make sure your line managers have the appropriate skills to deal with redundancy

Organisations need to manage the survivors throughout the redundancy process - communicate, reassure, update and plan for the future. Much of this relies on the skills of line management and their ability to motivate and engage their remaining staff.

Managers need to be prepared to deal with people's (daily) emotional reactions to change. The 'softer' skills of your line management community will be called on to reassure staff and give them a sense of purpose for the future.

Speak to remaining employees on a one-to-one basis and listen to their concerns

Survivors will be affected regardless that they are not on the redundancy 'list'. All employees will have views on how the organisation as a whole dealt with the redundancy and on how their line manager specifically handled the situation. It is crucial that employees feel free to express their concerns - without being told that they need not worry because they weren't directly impacted. Your managers should speak regularly and confidentially to remaining employees, to provide reassurance about their employment prospects and give them support in adapting to new ways of working.

Communicate a positive and forward-looking vision of the future

It is important that senior managers support the survivor strategy by being seen throughout the organisation and supporting their line managers during this difficult time. Specifically, senior managers need to communicate a clear and healthy future vision for the organisation and stress that the organisation values and relies on the skills and aptitude of its remaining employees. Make sure that your survivors can see how they fit as individuals into this vision and how important their particular contribution is.


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