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Delivering bad news well

Continuing the theme of dealing with the people implications of the credit crunch, here are a few tips for conveying the redundancy message well.

  1. If you are the person delivering the message, ensure you have someone from HR with you. This type of situation can be very emotional and it is important that you have someone with you as a witness and also who can answer any ‘technical’ questions e.g. about entitlements. Ideally the individual needs to have someone at the meeting to support them too.

  2. Prepare carefully what you will say and how you will say it. Rehearse this.

  3. Give the message straight. I have seen people in the situation mumble, mutter and use all sorts of euphemisms which fail to get the message across. The worst situation, recounted to me by a trade union representative, was the manager who said “you don’t realise how awful this is for me!”

  4. Be prepared for each individual to react to the news in a different way – some people will burst into tears, some will say nothing, some will be very angry. Give the person time to take on board the message you have just conveyed. Don’t take their reaction personally.

  5. Ensure you agree what the company line is on the reasons why. Make sure it’s clear that the reasons are business ones and avoid commenting on any personal ones if the individual asks “why me?” Avoid getting into an argument about the whys and wherefores.

  6. Organisations handle these situations in different ways. Some let employees go immediately, others allow employees to work out their notice – particularly challenging if you need time to transfer skills or projects from one individual to another. You need to be clear about this before you go into a redundancy meeting. Added uncertainty about this will not help you or the individual.

  7. Use your influence to encourage your organisation to offer support – outplacement support to look for another job, access to counselling and advice about handling finances are the primary ones to have in place. You want people to move on feeling that, despite the awful situation, it was handled as well as possible and ‘casualties’ were treated with dignity and respect.

  8. Help them in any way that you can – with time off, job applications, referrals to contacts. Demonstrate your empathy - it’s important to be nice to people when the going is tough. One colleague I worked with had a good relationship with his manager until the manager gave him notice of redundancy. The organisation was a large one, where redeployment opportunities could have been available. However, after that meeting the manager just wanted him out of the organisation and it showed. He ignored my colleague and treated him as if he was no longer wanted or needed. Having worked hard and done a good job, my colleague’s view of his manager changed dramatically – and he was anxious about what a reference might say. An anxiety he could have done without.

Telling someone they are going to lose their job is one of the most difficult tasks a manager has to do. Do it with sensitivity and you will at least feel as if you have done the very best that you can do in the circumstances.


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