Everybody knows someone who has been retrenched. Whilst it can be devastating for the person being retrenched, it can also be an anxious and upsetting time for the manager who has to deliver the news.
How can you, as a manager, deliver the news in a respectful and empathic way?
One way is to provide as much information as you can, prior to the decision, as often as you can. As a manager or business owner, this is the least you can do to reduce doubts and stress among staff. In the absence of information, staff will make up information and may worry themselves and each other more than is necessary.
When you are communicating, cover the following:
Purpose: Your staff may not agree with the reason for job losses, but they are much less likely to resist if they understand the thinking behind it. Even if they feel disadvantaged by the change, people generally cope better with a change that makes sense for a business once it’s clearly explained. Tell your employees if you need to cut costs, or the market has declined so you need less overheads or due to a merger, you have role duplication.
Picture: Staff need to be given an honest picture of what’s likely to happen and what the future looks like for them and their co-staff. A part of the picture is better than no picture at all.
Process: You will get greater cooperation if staff have a clear idea of the steps involved in the redundancy process and the kind of support and help that will be provided to them along the way. Let your staff know what you want them to do.
Part of being an effective manager is balancing business needs with compassion for your exiting staff.
When you are delivering the actual retrenchment news to an employee, it is important you have a script and have practiced what you are going to say. However, you do not need to deliver the information in a robotic manner. Be yourself and if it’s hard to deliver the news, it’s ok to show you are struggling with it. Being human means being affected by the process.
Here are some tips for the retrenchment meeting, to help you be respectful and empathic:
- Stay calm – whatever happens. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about them.
- Respect and protect the dignity of the employee.
- Get to the point and communicate the decision in the first few sentences, don’t drag it out trying to be kind, it’s really not!
- Be prepared to listen, wait for the staff member’s response and, if necessary, restate the message clearly. They may be in shock and so you may need to restate the message.
- Be careful with the words you use – remember positions are redundant, not people.
- Don’t try to be a counsellor – you are the manager and must stay in that role.
- Be clear about the decision and the process, so that you communicate it clearly.
- Take responsibility for the decision and the process, but be careful not to make promises you can’t keep.
- Refer the person to the outplacement provider if they are onsite, so they can talk them through the next steps in the process. If the outplacement provider isn’t on-site, give them the details of the person to contact.
- The outplacement provider will start to focus the staff member on the future and will acknowledge and normalise the emotions they are feeling.
- If you don’t have outplacement, consider an online alternative like Careering. Careering is an online tool which guides people through everything they need to do to find a job once they have been retrenched. As the cost is less than $100 per person, managers are often able to find this in a budget and give their exiting employees something to help them move forward.
Things to remember:
- You don’t have to agree with any reactions or opinions – just validate and acknowledge them. If the meeting starts to get uncomfortable, the ‘broken record’ technique is a useful way to handle the more difficult responses. Eg repeating a phrase in a calm voice, such as ‘The decision is final and I’m sorry it cant be reconsidered.’
There are things you shouldn’t say, as they can be perceived as insensitive:
- ‘There’s a fair bit of money in the package.
- ‘I think we’ve been pretty generous.’
- ‘It’s not the end of the world.’
- ‘You’ll find something else.’
- ‘Don’t worry, you’re not the only one being made redundant.’
- ‘You might find this is the best thing that ever happened to you.’
Adjusting to job loss can 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. Be prepared for a whole host of emotions. Don’t take it personally and treat each person as you would want to be treated in a similar situation.