Is there a right way to tell an employee they are being made redundant?

‘Breaking the news’ around redundancies can be extremely challenging for everyone involved. For those delivering the message it is often cited as one of the most unpleasant activities to go through and during this current period it may be the first time many HR professionals and business leaders have been in this position.

Remote teams and virtual home working can bring an additional layer of complexity to such a sensitive communication. While video-conferencing, rather than face-to-face conversations may be necessary, this is not a justification for overlooking the importance of one-on-one communication. Whether meetings take place virtually or face-to-face those delivering the news should always do so in a compassionate way.

Careful planning and well-structured meetings can mitigate challenges for those delivering the message, whilst also ensuring that the employee leaves with dignity and respect.

Preparation advice to consider includes:

  • Meetings should take place in a quiet office location, ideally where there will be no disruptions and with phones muted.
  • Start meetings with a script agreed in advance. This means you can be as clear as possible, give accurate information, avoid poor phrasing and ensure that all the relevant points are discussed. Practice helps, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with the messaging in order to avoid it coming across as wooden or unsympathetic. Be confident in the message and be prepared for any difficult questions that may arise.
  • Avoid Fridays. People will not be able to ask questions of anyone over the weekend and this creates more anxiety.
  • Be aware of sensitivities for each individual by trying to avoid breaking the news on occasions like birthdays, major anniversaries or just ahead of holidays – we understand this is not always possible but it is something to consider.
  • Have clear plan and clear understanding of the next steps in the redundancy process.

Things to avoid during a first meeting include:

  • It’s not appropriate to provide ‘false optimism’ by implying that redundancy ‘probably won’t happen’ or it’s ‘unlikely to impact you’. This is misleading to the employee.
  • Senior members of the team should not shirk responsibility with statements such as ‘if it were down to me this wouldn’t be happening’ or ‘you know it’s not me, it’s a decision taken out of my hands’. This risks further internal resentment.
  • Rushing through the meeting because you feel uncomfortable. Give the individual time to process the information they are receiving and ask any questions they may have.
  • The meeting getting heated. You should prepare accordingly for all potential responses to the news and know how you will manage difficult conversations and questions.

Emotions may run high, and it can be very upsetting when faced with telling colleagues – some of whom may have become friends – news that may negatively affect them.

It’s important to be empathetic and maintain an open-door policy, listening to any initial feedback after the shock of an announcement. You may wish to seek the support of career transition specialists who can be at hand to support with initial concerns around potential next steps.

For further advice and guidance on how to manage change and redundancy, including planning and communicating change, the redundancy process and employee support options available download a copy of our guide to ‘Supporting your organisation through change and redundancy’ below. 

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