Managing after redundancies

Yet another of my friends has been made redundant, this one after 21 years in her role as a senior manager in a hospital. The 1990s may be known for redundancies but they’re still a common feature of the organisational landscape.

Morale certainly takes a hit after even one redundancy, never mind a series of sad goodbyes. And you’re no doubt familiar with the ‘survivor syndrome’, the feelings of ‘Gosh, I’m glad it wasn’t me’ followed by guilt that you’ve still got a job and someone you liked and respected hasn’t. This is often followed by resentment and feeling taken advantage of among those who have picked up the extra workload of their recently departed colleague(s).

So how do you manage those left behind, especially when they may well be feeling unsettled in their own positions and less trusting of and loyal toward the organisation itself?

Provided redundancies aren’t an exercise in shifting deck chairs on the Titanic (in which case, polish up your CV) but to meet a genuine business need, make sure people understand that ‘redundancy’ means the elimination of a job due to outsourcing or restructuring and it is not personal or related to performance. (When the redundancy is due to outsourcing, your job is probably even harder because of the additional emotions that bubble up as a result.)

Acknowledge and respond to people’s feelings of guilt, shock, resentment and loss of confidence in the organisation and in their own security. Answer their questions as honestly and straightforwardly as you can. Explain the bigger picture and how the redundancy was necessary in order to strengthen the business. People need to understand the context.

Paint a clear picture of the future and the important roles those left behind have in that future. Then people can think, ‘Yes, this has been bad news. But at least it’s going to help us build the future we need’. When that isn’t clear, you’re left with unsettled, unhappy people and sinking productivity.

Involve people in working out how work can best be done in the absence of their former colleague(s) and how you can all move forward together. Keep an eye out for signs of stress and dissatisfaction such as increased absenteeism or people ‘going through the motions’ and take them as a sign you need to communicate more; listen to what people are thinking and keep showing the way forward (without making promises you can’t keep and without ‘spin’). The less you communicate, the more the rumour mill is going to flourish and its content won’t be nice.

Work at strengthening your own trustworthiness in the eyes of your team, too, because trust in ‘management’ in general has probably dropped and you need the trust of your team for them to work at their best and continue produce a valuable product or service.