Downsizing with dignity: questions HR must address

HRM chats to an expert about how HR can avoid angering employees when making the tough call to cut jobs.

In August, Hutchinson Ports in Australia dismissed 97 workers via SMS and email. This angered staff members, who felt that the company’s technique was cruel, particularly due to the termination’s sudden nature.

The story subsequently gained interest on mainstream and social media, leading to protests in Sydney and Brisbane. Protestors blocked the firm’s terminals, ultimately causing a temporary cessation of Hutchinson’s operations.

Natalie Ashdown, CEO of Open Door Coaching Group, told HRM that Hutchinson’s mistake is not uncommon among companies who are forced to make the decision to cut jobs.

“Throughout these decisions, [Hutchinson] could have asked better questions, called on other points of view, considered the organisation’s values, and considered the people as more than just numbers, headcount and dollars translated to the bottom line,” she said.

Ashdown added that in the turmoil of downsizing, it’s HR should be constantly wary of losing touch of the ‘human’ in ‘human resources’.

Questions HR should be asking

According to Ashdown, HR should consider the following questions when forced to make workers redundant:
  • How can we do this with respect and dignity?
  • How can we do this so that we put the interests of our workers first?
  • Rather than texting, what other options do we have?
  • How would I feel if I got that text message?
  • What are the alternatives to sacking people?
  • What message do we need to convey and what’s the best way to do this?
  • Who do we need to get involved to support people through the process?
  • What support are the workers going to need?
  • What else haven’t we thought about?
  • How can we go through this difficult period and still be proud of the way we treated people?
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