According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) each year around 2.3 per cent of Australian workers lose their jobs as a result of corporate downsizing or closure. This means there is a strong likelihood that if you have been in the workforce for over 10+ years you may have been retrenched yourself or at least know someone who has.
For leaders in a business one of their responsibilities is to have to have difficult conversations, none tougher I think than the retrenchment termination conversation. I know these conversations can be challenging however I want you to know that the manner in which you have these conversations with your exiting employees will have a significant impact on their psychological welfare and ability to move positively forward.
I don’t say this lightly. I am a career transition or outplacement coach. I have met hundreds of people who have been retrenched and the way they feel, and how successful they are in finding a new role is significantly impacted by the way their manager handled the termination conversation. And what happened once they were told.
Adjusting to job loss may be difficult for people who have carefully planned for their future and, through no fault of their own, find it’s suddenly undone or put on hold.
Some people might be delighted with the resultant pay out, but for many it’s a distressing and stressful time, so please treat each person as you would want to be treated in a similar situation. For me, this means being human and empathic, allowing the person who is hearing the news the time to digest it, and allowing them to experience the emotions that may come to them, without any judgement. Maybe its uncomfortable for you but it’s going to be much worse for the recipient.
This also means that whilst you may have a script to follow, don’t be a robot, don’t change your tone or language and become a different person at the very time when your exiting employee needs to understand that you care about them and their future. Allow your transitioning person to feel valued and respected, allow them to leave with dignity by being authentic and real about the change news you are giving them.
Also think carefully about what happens next, does the employee go back to their desk? Go home? Leave straight away, work notice? If you tell someone to leave straight away or walk with them to pack up their desk and leave, they will likely feel like a criminal, like they have done something wrong, and this negative feeling will stay with them for a long time. I know, because I hear it all the time.
Here are some of the things I’ve heard in only the last two months – “I was walked out like I had stolen money and I didn’t get to say goodbye to all my team, I was devastated. I felt so humiliated on top of losing my job.” “My manager didn’t seem to care at all, it was like the 5 years working for him counted for nothing”. “Not one of the management team even called to see how I was going after I left, I felt so flat”. “ I am a confident person, but it really shook me, I felt somehow ashamed, it made me so upset the way it was handled, it needn’t have been that way!”
Making roles redundant is part of 21st century life for many organisations. That’s reality. Handling it poorly though, is a choice! If you are a leader and need to make tough retrenchment decisions, think long and hard about how you deliver the news. It’s often not what’s said it’s how it is said and how the person is made to feel that has the biggest impact on their self-worth and mental state.
June is Co-Founder of Selection Partners, and an Executive and Career Coach. June has strong business acumen with the ability to quickly grasp the needs of her clients. She has proven experience in the application of critical leadership coaching methodologies and tools.