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Building a redundancy program you could actually be proud of

By Jamie Getgood FIML

This crazy COVID era has put many organisations under immense pressure to shift their plans and in many cases, restructure their workforce. I’ve been involved with many critical redundancy programs in the last 20 years and throughout my career, I have seen the good, the bad and the downright cruel. 

A sad example of this I heard just recently. An organisation that a good friend of mine was in had to go through the inevitable situation of making a large number of people redundant.

They gathered all their employees in one room and proceeded in calling out names. They then said to the group, “If your name was called out, you are now redundant. Go to the next room and collect your paperwork. Everyone else can go back to work.”

Many people that day had the embarrassing position of being called out publicly before making the dreaded Walk of Shame to the next room.

Was the company trying to be malicious and disrespectful? 

On closer inspection, it is often identified as simply having inexperienced managers with little knowledge of the process or an HR Team with very little time to come up with a dignified process.

This is what a poor redundancy process looks like, and, unfortunately, this is real and becoming more prevalent.

The real danger of programs like this, though, is that they don’t just create a poor experience for the outgoing employee. Poor programs create risks of brand damage, legal ramifications, disheartened and emotionally distraught leaders and an impact on your ongoing performance and productivity as your remaining employees will also feel like just a number. 

Whilst it is hard to call any redundancy program successful, there are tips you can follow so you too don’t make the mistake of treating people without care or respect.

Begin with the end in mind

I often get asked by HR leaders and partners what mindset to have when performing redundancies. My answer is always the same: focus on people and begin with the end in mind.

In the future, if you want to engage your remaining employees as well as attract new talent when things turn back around, you want them to hear how well you treated your previous employees. 

So, how do you do that?

Your focus should hinge on achieving an outcome that’s best for the whole. Before making a decision, take a moment to ask yourself these three key questions:

  • How would I want to be treated if I were in their shoes?
  • How would I want to feel when I walk back into that office after it’s all over?
  • How do I want to be remembered as a leader?

Use your answers as guiding points to lead you in the right direction as you navigate the redundancy process.

Don’t just react

Coming through this tough COVID environment, it can be very easy to just react to the challenges thrown at us and dive into a redundancy program. The problem with this approach is that without proper planning and a robust process, you can make a huge amount of errors that can impact your brand. 

In my 20+ years of running redundancy programs, I have found that the most pragmatic and effective programs are built around three phases:

The planning phase is about:

  • Aligning the needs and priorities of your business with your workforce
  • Assessing your legal obligations
  • Utilising evidence-based assessment and selection criteria
  • Identifying stakeholders that may be impacted
  • Creating your communication strategies to provide a consistent message

The preparing phase helps you in:

  • Developing your scripts, letters and documents ahead of time
  • Designing the appropriate exit day process in advance
  • Preparing support initiatives (e.g. EAP) to ensure a caring and dignified approach

The performing phase includes:

  • Conducting program training to ensure your leaders and others are suitably prepared to support impacted employees when initiating discussions
  • Creating and actioning walk plans and transportation, amongst others, so your employees feel respected
  • Reinforcing communication and engagement initiatives for your remaining employees

Mental health matters

Leaving your company doesn’t have to be the worst day of your life. But anyone impacted by the coming change, no matter how calm and rational they appear, are likely to experience emotions even if it’s a change they fully support. 

For some, the redundancy may be the final straw—the tipping point which may result in a severe emotional response. For this reason alone, we need to consider how this impacts the employees and your leaders.

Check your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and provide mental health first aid awareness training early to help leaders discern behavioural signs of employees under high emotional stress. 

You should also consider:

  • Ensuring leaders are trained to understand empathetic listening
  • Creating a walk plan to avoid people going through the Walk of Shame
  • Providing transportation, support from home or a colleague or follow-up welfare calls
  • Offering emotional support and a transition conversation as part of the process
  • Following up with your leaders after the event and see how they are coping
  • Thinking carefully about how your remaining culture will cope

Am I proud of this experience? 

I have learned an enormous amount of valuable lessons on this journey. Leading and managing a program that involved the emotional and fiscal turbulence of layoffs and transitions in the thousands was an extremely arduous task. 

People may have lost their jobs and had to change careers, but I have received nothing but appreciation and hugs from our former employees who appreciated how well we took care of them.

This is the experience that inspired us to create a program that will not only guide leaders through the ins and outs of the redundancy process but also help them do so with a philosophy of putting people’s interests first.

So to answer this question, I would have to say, yes. I am proud of and extremely honoured to have led a transition and redundancy program that is now being used by companies around the world.

The good news is that I didn’t have to bid farewell to the people in GM Holden because we were able to build indestructible relationships that could survive awful things—including the closure of the industry we all belonged in. 

And it was all made possible simply because we put people first. 

Jamie Getgood is a Fellow of IML ANZ, an Australian Leader of the Year awardee and the founder of The People Shift. Jamie is also a contributor to Leadership Matters: 7 skills of very successful leaders.

Learn to plan and carry out responsible redundancies

Is your organisation facing the possibility of downsizing or a restructure? Join Jamie Getgood at our next virtual event: ‘The ultimate guide to responsible employee redundancies

Plus, if you’re an IML ANZ Member, you’ll receive a special offer to support you in this area.


Offer Ends 30 June 2024

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