Going through a redundancy process not only has repercussions for those leaving your organization: it can have a ripple effect on morale and engagement across your entire workforce. How you manage communication around it matters.


Delivering news about organizational change and redundancies is never an easy task. And in the current climate, we’re seeing more and more businesses facing difficult choices in order to survive the pandemic. Redundancies are now near-daily news across the globe, impacting almost all industries and sectors.

Rolling out a redundancy program will always present a challenge and is often considered one of the most stressful life experiences any of us may face.

The impact also isn’t isolated to those leaving the business: there are a huge range of reactions and inter-dependencies that will ripple throughout the organization and beyond.

How we manage the process has a huge impact on both individuals and the organization as a whole. A considered redundancy communications plan that looks to the broader impact on your business and all its stakeholders will safeguard your brand, reputation, and human capital.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

What is the impact of redundancy on an organization?

While the largest impact and consequences will be for those individuals leaving the business, research and experience consistently show that there can be a devastating impact on those left behind also.

Without effective communication, those left after a redundancy program can experience a range of reactions. Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

The consequences may be practical such as a restructuring of roles and responsibilities, need for training or upskilling of remaining staff, or increased workload. There’s also a significant risk of emotional fallout including loss of professional relationships or friendships, fear, insecurity or uncertainty about the future, or potential resentment or disengagement directed at management.

“Research has shown that after people in a company have witnessed redundancy happening around them, the overall performance and efficiency of the company plummet, ultimately leading to a drop in the organization’s productivity. In many cases, redundancy can severely undermine a business’s human capital.”

(HR News)

If the process is poorly handled, these risks rise exponentially.

News headlines regularly pick up horror stories of employees finding out about forthcoming redundancies from social media, the press, a colleague. The resulting backlash on morale, management being labelled as untrustworthy or accused of not communicating with their staff, or even suspected of pursuing an alternative agenda, is far-reaching and significant.

Aside from avoiding any legal claims, organizations must safeguard their brand and reputation; a badly handled process will often go public and can trigger strong reactions from customers, consumers, investors, shareholders, unions, and more.

Internally, it can cause the employer brand to shift and trigger further staff losses or disengagement.

A considered redundancy communications plan that looks to the broader impact on your business and all its stakeholders will safeguard your brand, reputation, and human capital.

Handled sensitively and initiated for the right reasons, however, a redundancy program doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. It can present an opportunity for fresh direction, growth, or much-needed adaptation and change to changing circumstances or demands on the business.

If staff feel empowered with the understanding of why it’s happening and what comes next, they’ll be more perceptive and open to change.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

Managing the redundancy process: company-wide

While management of individual employees facing the redundancy process will often come down to HR and line managers, there’s a clear case for taking a 365-degree approach and drafting a business-wide change management and communications plan.

Step one: bring Comms in early

A redundancy program is understandably a sensitive organizational change: and, therefore, likely to be privileged information in the early days.

However, bringing in internal communications early on in the process can help shape messaging or positioning and develop a comprehensive comms plan that will reach all the necessary stakeholders involved.

Setting up a collaboration between Comms, HR, and PR will ensure all messaging is aligned – and no-one is missed.

Step two: Clearly and simply define the business rationale

It will be the question on everyone’s lips, so it’s critical to get it right.

Have a clear, consistent and simple message from leadership that explains the ‘why’ behind the decision to roll-out a redundancy program.

Clarity and honesty are vital.

While it’s tempting to try and explain, don’t let it become a ramble of justifications or excuses; anything overly complicated or long will dilute the message and may even spark distrust or resentment in staff. Clarity and honesty are vital. Map out the main point or points you want to address upfront.

Step three: Map out your wider audience

At the center of your redundancy program will, of course, be those facing the prospect of losing their roles. Directly impacted by their loss are their immediate teams, line managers, colleagues they work closely with on a day-to-day basis.

However, the ripple caused by redundancies expands far wider than this. One of the best ways to prepare is to understand the wider network.

This includes those responsible for your external or customer-facing comms, including Customer Support, Marketing, and those responsible for social media channels, website, or media relations. If news about redundancies breaks externally, these are first in line when it comes to fielding questions and they need to understand your company position.

You also need to consider those further along your supply chain and involved in distribution, or third-party businesses that provide services or support such as consultancy, cleaning, facilities management, or catering. If your organization is restructuring or losing a significant number of employees, or simply losing their main point of contact, they need to be kept in the loop.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

Step four: Consider and prepare for individual reactions

Not all staff respond to news in the same way.

Just as those individuals directly impacted by the prospect of redundancy will have unique circumstances, those remaining with the business will have their own concerns, fears, and considerations. Knowing your audience means you can tailor the message and support available.

As part of your redundancy communications plan, take the time to consider the potential FAQs and where staff will need signposting after an announcement. Information about next steps, who to consult if they have questions, and additional support information such as your EAP are all be beneficial to have on hand.  

Step five: Create a support brief for ALL line managers

Those managers whose team members are directly affected will naturally need unique support. However, this is no reason to leave other line managers out of the loop altogether.

Employees at every level and in every area will have questions, concerns, or simply need reassurance. Empower your manager cascade to answer accordingly, even if the original communication is coming from higher up.

Creating a brief or running a session for your line managers will ensure they’re empowered and ready to provide support to their staff when the news breaks.

Alongside the business rationale, line managers need to understand essential information, and where or how to signpost staff who have concerns or experience stress in response to the news.

Remind managers that their visibility, listening, and support is paramount, and staff grievances or strong reactions are to be expected. It’s also OK to admit if they don’t have all the answers available immediately. Simply encouraging an open-door policy can go a long way.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

Step six: Look at the when

You know what you need to say and who you need to say it to. Now, it’s time to orchestrate those comms into a calendar of events: ensuring the right people know at the right time.

Lining up your comms to launch at the right time is crucial. Consider not only the order of who should know when, but any external factors that may have an impact.

Timing is everything.

It should go without saying that those likely to be directly impacted must know first before the rest of the world. Tell your staff as soon as it’s realistic, rather than holding out until you have a polished or finalized plan. Don’t be the company crisis managing a social media backlash when staff wake to news that jobs may be laid off from their daily Twitter update. Doing line manager briefings at the same time can ensure they’re prepared, before going to the wider business.

Tell your staff as soon as it’s realistic, rather than holding out until you have a polished or finalized plan.

Laws in the UK that mean organizations must enter a period of consultation if planning to make 20 or more redundancies in a 90-day period; there’s a risk that media will get wind of the news and it begins to leak with inaccuracies or misreporting. Developing a holding statement for release until internal information is finalized can help weather this storm while negotiations and discussion continue internally.

Be sensitive of when you choose to make announcements, mindful of external events or other news where possible. Ensure you don’t announce a redundancy program the day after publishing company profit figures!

It’s likely the process will be spread out, so give timescales and next steps to prepare everyone for what will happen when.

Step seven: Look at the how

Time to think channels. While individuals facing redundancy should be spoken to directly, you need to consider how to inform other stakeholders impacted by the news.

For employees, hearing from senior leadership is typically the best route and offers reassurance, direction, and transparency. If you’re telling the wider workforce, a townhall or video-ed announcement with opportunity for Q&A is typical: face-to-face is the most effective and trusted means of delivering tough news.

With any difficult news, there can be a temptation to distance ourselves from the delivery. However, face-to-face communication is proven to be most effective. This also enables staff to ask questions as needed.

Remember that shock or surprise can hinder the ability to take messages in fully; follow up with written, centralized comms to provide clarity and answer common questions. Ensure there are follow-up meetings, chats, or consultations available for ALL staff, not just those facing redundancy.

For external comms, be aware that there is a danger of leaks and misinformation.

Choose your official channels carefully and ensure your internal and external channels – and messaging – line up before pressing ‘publish.’ Determine who should hold responsibility for managing third-party relations and informing those potentially impacted, and whether this news can come face-to-face, over the phone, or perhaps as a video call.  

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

Step eight: Use compassion, not corporate speak

Managing the process of rolling out redundancies can be stressful, fraught, and potentially ridden with legal implications and red tape. It’s understandable that as managers, we shy from the danger of saying the ‘wrong thing’ and stick to the party line.

Speak to your employees as one human being to another. Using compassion, empathy, and understanding rather than a corporate script will help those on the receiving end of the news.

However, there’s a fine line between staying professional… and coming off as cold, impersonal, or indifferent. Remember that your employees are at the heart of this process and speak to them as human beings, not company assets.

Use compassion and understanding in your communications to speak to your employees and reassure them that this isn’t a decision that’s been made in haste. Don’t resort to figures, graphs, projections at this point. Approaching your comms people-first reflects better on both business and management, and will help harbour understanding and trust.

Step nine: Acknowledge the losses and allow a grieving period

It’s understandable that when facing a potentially negative backlash to business change, we want to ‘put a positive spin’ on it.

However, when announcing a program of redundancies, we have to demonstrate empathy and understanding that this is about the loss of our people.

The loss of colleagues and the emotions this can trigger calls for acknowledgement and understanding. Allow for a grieving period before moving forward.

Attempting to ‘bury the lead’ in a presentation about a new vision or direction for the business is insensitive and will be poorly received. Remember, staff may be losing friends or close colleagues they’ve worked alongside for a long time, feeling anxious about their own job security, or what this means for the future of the business.

With any period of redundancy, there needs to be a grieving period.

With any period of redundancy, there needs to be a grieving period. Acknowledge that this is news that has some potentially upsetting or negative consequences, give staff time to digest, and postpone the motivational speeches until after it’s sunk in.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?

Step ten: Move forward

Respecting the time needed for the initial shock to wear off is important. However, your remaining staff will be looking to leadership and the business as a whole, trying to understand what this news means for both the long-term health of the business and their roles.

Looking to the future and sharing the new vision, direction, and objectives for your organization can help re-instate engagement and maintain morale.

It’s important to show those staff that they continue to play an important role and start focusing on the future direction of the business.

Put the message out that these changes are to ensure a healthy future for the organization: their organization.

Celebrating successes or great pieces of work can help improve morale; regular updates from senior management on plans, objectives, and positive company performance can help reassure staff.

Keep looping back to that all-important ‘why,’ but build on it. Putting the message out that these changes are to ensure a healthy future for the organization – one they will continue to be a part of – can keep focus and momentum.

Moving on as a business after redundancy

Managing the change and uncertainty that comes as part of a redundancy program is just the beginning of the process. No matter the reason or circumstances surrounding the change, there are likely to be long-term implications for both your organization and the people with in it.

Moving on as an organization may take time, and it’s important that comms around the process don’t stop the day those staff walk out the door.

Gauge staff sentiment and reactions with regular check-ins: whether pulse surveys, employee forums, an employee engagement survey, or manager check-in meetings. Listen to your employees and address any remaining concerns upfront.

It may take time, but providing the right support and showing employees you’ve listened and understood will make for a smoother path. Just keep the conversation going.

Guide

Communicating change in your business

The only thing that is certain is change. How you choose to communicate change internally to staff plays a huge role in determining its success. Are you prepared?