As the economic downturn worsens, HR is faced with managing redundancies. In the last part of a three-part feature, Craig Donaldson looks at organisational rebuilding and how to boost employee morale and engagement in the wake of job losses
Redundancies are commonplace in many organisa
tions in times of economic hardship. While this is
a fact of life for the survival of some organisations,
an important step to help shore up the sustainability and
long-term profitability of an organisation is the process
of organisational rebuilding.
Getting the redundancy process right in the first place
is key to organisational rebuilding. HR plays a signifi
cant role in both – in supporting the business strategy of
an organisation and assisting line managers with the
process of implementing redundancies.
Geoff Donington, CEO of the Donington Group,
says HR has a number of responsibilities when it
comes to redundancies. He says HR’s first role is to
support the organisation and develop a detailed plan in
line with business strategy for preparing for redundan
cies. The second responsibility is to support line man
agers in delivering news of redundancies, while the
third responsibility is in helping line managers with
“In case of a major restructure, HR has got its
hands full. HR has to partner with line managers
because it’s the duty of the line managers to tell the
person whose role is being made redundant, and HR
works alongside line managers in this process,”
Nick Plummer, director of Directioneering, says
organisations need to ensure their frontline managers
plan and communicate the process of redundancies with
support from HR resources or from external outplace
ment firms. “It is extremely critical to take care of the
logistics,” he says.
“Proper planning leads to good training (individually
or in a group) and excellent communication, resulting in
well-prepared frontline managers who are able to handle
the process smoothly and support the exiting staff with
grace and dignity.”
Simon Moylan, general manager of talent manage
ment for Hudson, says that, as stressful as staff mem
ber separations can be, there are ways to conduct these
processes sensitively and with dignity for all parties.
“The first rule of redundancies is that the line manag
er must own the process and take responsibility for
advising their direct reports,” he says.
HR can assist by providing effective separation
training for managers covering topics such as: clearly
conveying the message – why the position is redun
dant; clarifying issues; monitoring the staff member’s
reactions; explaining procedures; explaining the letter
of departure; concluding the interview diplomatically;
introducing outplacement/assistance provided; and
responding to reactions.
Handling the redundancy process
Redundancies often have a significant impact on organi
sations. Culture, morale, employee engagement and pro
ductivity can all take a significant hits if the process is
not managed well.
David Reynolds, executive general manager of
Chandler Macleod Consulting, says that if the redun
dancy process is well handled and planned, staff who
have lost their jobs will feel they have been treated
with dignity and respect, with professional support
both on the day of the announcement as well as post-
separation. “Managers will have delivered the mes
sage in a confident, empathetic and professional man
ner, and staff will not feel resentful of the individual
manager,” he says.
Moylan says the organisational impact of redundan
cies is usually a result of the process that is followed.
“The effect on organisations is normally a direct meas
ure of two factors: the quality and clarity of the commu
nication of the decisions and rationale; and the treatment
of leaving employees,” he says.
“Open, clear, transparent communication that leaves
no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and
a fair and reasonable process normally results in min
imised impact on the remaining employees.”
In this case, he says employees may be upset by the
person leaving, but understand the reasoning behind
decisions and can see that those employees affected have
been treated with respect and dignity. When communi
cation is not clear or comprehensive, Moylan says,
remaining employees will tend to create their own ver
sion of events which is normally more negative than real
ity. “Handled poorly, employees will be fearful of their
own positions, looking to jump ship before they are
next,” he says.
Jannine Fraser, director of Directioneering, says the
process of redundancies causes such trauma that it’s
natural for the remaining staff to want to turn their
back on the event. “The frontline managers are not
recognised for handling the process well. There are
no KPIs associated with providing closure to the
rupture of the corporate fabric,” she says.
“Logic prevails in day-to-day business, but
redundancy events are profoundly personal as it
impacts on the personal relationship between indi
viduals (both exiting and remaining) and the
Redundancies often cause so much trauma to the
corporate body, Fraser says, that by the time team
rebuilding occurs, the remaining staff are often too
exhausted to go through it effectively, so it’s impor
tant to plan properly prior to the event and implement
it effectively when the time comes.
In working through any sort of organisational
change, communication is the key to success, accord
ing to Moylan. The rebuilding process must begin
with a clear articulation of the organisation’s vision
and an explanation of how the current changes being
implemented will assist in achieving the strategy.
“Depending on the size of organisational
change, rebuilding initiatives can include recom
mitment workshops, team building, job clarifica
tion, change progress monitoring and ongoing
communication, he says.
“Recommitment workshops can assist individuals
to understand their own reactions to change, and how
to support other team members through the change.”
Factors to consider in such workshops include job
clarity (if a person’s role or responsibilities have
changed), whether they have a clear understanding of
the expectations of them and how to perform their
new job, he says.
Plummer also says communication is the critical
tool in rebuilding your team. “Schedule team meet
ings regularly and often,” he says. “Give due
respect to what happened, but also help the team
look towards the future. Senior management,
including senior executives, need to walk the floor
and talk to their team members. They need to be
visible and accessible.”
Donington says line managers play an especially
important role in rebuilding. Managers need to short
en their horizon in planning and focus immediately on
their team’s needs, he says, by listening to people
carefully and having an open-door policy. “Make sure
that people can come and talk to them, schedule for
mal meetings to catch up and make sure there’s plen
ty of informal communication. Line managers need to
keep close to their team during this time,” he says.
Lessons for leaders
In any organisational rebuilding process, Reynolds
says, executives must first take care of themselves.
They need to understand where they are at emotional
ly and how they are reacting and dealing with the
change, he says.
“Their role is to be leaders and act as such.
Staff will be looking to them for a consistent mes
sage and a strong leader who is confident about
the future and is clear on what is needed for the
organisation to continue to thrive, even in difficult
times,” he says.
Fraser notes that in good times, the values of an
organisation are easily defined. However, it is in a
crisis that the true measure of the corporate body
is revealed. “Smart organisations translate the
touted organisational values into concrete action
by removing all punitive elements and accommo
dating exiting staff’s needs to make the transition.
By allowing the team to have an appropriate forum
for closure and bid farewell to one another, key
leaders are actively protecting the integrity of the
corporate body,” she says.
Moylan says the role of executives and company
leaders in organisational rebuilding is setting the
direction for the company and inspiring employees
to embrace the transformation. “The most important
lesson to be learned is that the change management
process is ongoing. There needs to be continued
communication and support for current employees,
to ensure profitability is maximised, engagement is
retained, morale is sustained and ultimately, the
objectives of the transformation achieved.”