Dealing with the Spectre of RedundancyTuesday, December 6th, 2011
Christmas is not a time for being miserable and we can be excused for putting aside negative issues until we are well into the New Year. But employers need to be realistic, and however anxious we are to shower our employees with goodwill over the festive season, nevertheless we need to recognise that we are in a serious recession that is likely to get worse before it gets better. You know, and your employees know, that there is a threat to their livelihoods in the near future. However much you try to ignore it, the spectre of redundancy will hang in the air over the whole Christmas and New Year season.
You have a great responsibility here. Redundancy can blight the lives of many people, not only your employees who are directly affected but also their families, their children and even their friends. Decent jobs already are scarce, and anyone put out of work at present will have great difficulty finding alternative employment. Your duty therefore as a manager of people at any level is to do all that you reasonable can to obviate redundancy. You can of course burn the incense, hope for the best and plan for the worst, but this really is not enough. Far better it is to plan to stop the worst from hitting you.
A key to success here is to involve your employees as soon and as much as you can. You may feel it better to avoid depressing them by not talking about business problems, but this really is irresponsible escapism. Imagine how you would feel if, having spent a fortune on Christmas presents and celebrations and having paid a non-returnable deposit on a Mediterranean holiday, you are told that you will lose your job at Easter. As a manager you are unlikely ever to get a medal for making people redundant, but you will be respected for being seen to have taken steps to avoid doing so. By keeping employees informed and involved you are more likely to retain your good people and harness everyone’s thoughts and efforts into sustaining the business and maintaining the workforce.
If your organisation is in any way adversely affected by the recession, be open and honest with your employees. Let them know what is happening in the world in which you operate and how it is impacting on the organisation. If orders are drying up, tell them. If customers are suffering, tell them. If costs are going up, tell them. Ideally tell them everything that is worrying your chief executive and directors. You may not lessen the load of worry but you will be able to engage with a supportive workforce. How you do this will of course depend upon your communication systems. If you have good systems in place whereby you meet regularly with your employees or their representatives, use them, otherwise set up something appropriate. Newsletters are useful as are announcements on notice boards, but do use simple terminology that everyone can understand and relate to. However, by far the best means of communication is talking directly to people. If your workforce is not large or operates in one small area, then you could address everyone at the same time, but otherwise give people the information in small groups. This may require you to train your managers or team leaders in simple communication techniques. When you have information to deliver, call them together, give them the news together with any background material so that they can not only deliver the message but also deal with most anticipated questions. Make them aware of the importance of inviting questions, but stress that they must either give straight answers there and then or tell their people that they will come back with appropriate answers soon after when they themselves have had chance to consult an expert.
Regular and good quality communication in difficult times provides two great benefits. First it develops a more understanding and receptive workforce that is more likely to co-operate with the employer who they perceive has no choice other than to take difficult decisions or make significant changes to their work patterns. Second it harnesses the thinking power of employees and directs their minds towards ways of minimising the organisation’s difficulties.
As suggested earlier, rather than plan to deal with trouble when it hits you, plan to minimise the likelihood of trouble occurring. Get down to some workforce planning. Consider how your organisation may be affected by market conditions during the coming year and decide what this may mean in the way of personnel. Will you for example need the same number of people and the same mix of skills? If you are likely to need fewer people, to what extent will natural wastage bring numbers down? Aim to get agreement with your people that you will replace outgoing employees only if they have an otherwise unavailable skill, but instead you will discuss and seek to find a means of redistributing work so that as many people as possible take on a slightly heavier workload. Make clear that you will consider seriously any complaint that you are overworking someone.
In difficult times training can be the salvation of organisations. If you are likely to need new skills in the coming months, consider whether you can train existing employees rather than recruit from outside the organisation. If the skill exists already but you need more people to acquire it, you may be able to have the training carried out by existing operators. People are only too willing to acquire a new skill if they are made to understand that this will give them greater job security with their existing employer and, if they are unfortunate in losing their job, will improve their subsequent employment prospects. However possibly the greatest use of training is to develop flexibility in your workforce. The days of strict job demarcation are largely gone though people do get a bit nervous if they feel that their monopoly of the skill for doing a job is being threatened. However, in difficult times they can be made to see that their willingness to take on different duties not only helps the organisation to survive, but also gives them greater security in case the job they are doing becomes unnecessary.
Should it become apparent that you will have to reduce the workforce, think instead of hours required rather than numbers employed. Work does not come in convenient 35 hour lumps. Therefore encourage employees of all ages to consider reducing their hours. Obviously their income will be reduced, but have them look at the net loss of income as a price they pay for additional leisure time. Some people may appreciate the opportunity to have more leisure, some may see it as a good way to run a small business while having the security of some guaranteed income from you. Take care however not to pressurise anyone, to make your suggestions to everyone regardless of age – but be sure to reserve the right to refuse a request.
Employees themselves may have ideas for increasing efficiency or making critical cost savings, and your communication sessions should encourage this. However you may prompt people to put on their thinking caps by introducing a short term suggestion scheme whereby, for example, the best suggestion of the week or month wins a night out for two or some other luxury. Should a suggestion that is adopted produce major improvements, then you may feel it right to give a greater reward, but generally small rewards offered frequently produce good ideas from employees.
If redundancy really does seem inevitable then you need to get into the legally required processes of information and consultation right away. Delays can bring drastic penalties. Managing redundancy is a difficult process that requires a range of skills that few managers adequately possess. You will need management skills to take your people with you, to achieve a smooth process with minimal work disruption, and to motivate the people left behind, and of course you will need the most up-to-date legal skills.
The whole legal background to redundancy these days is a minefield, made even more treacherous by the prevailing compensation climate. One mistake can result in your organisation having to pay out thousands of pounds in compensation that may well wipe out the savings that the redundancy exercise was intended to achieve. So make sure that you are not the person who makes that mistake by enrolling for our course “Redundancies and Restructuring” that will take you through the whole process and give opportunity for you to ask questions. Even better, have the course run in-house so that the whole management team is made aware of the problems and pitfalls, and so that you can address the issues that are peculiar to your organisation in its time of difficulty.