The increased need for businesses to downsize their workforce in the last five years has meant that employers have found it easier to take a more in-direct and less humane approach to aid their own discomfort when dealing with redundancies, says cognitive neuroscientist and expert in the psychology of business Dr Lynda Shaw.

Shaw maintains that this is the worst attitude to have. “It is an employer’s duty to ensure that redundancies are handled in a personal and supportive way. Shockingly I am seeing time and time again that employers have forgotten how to handle redundancy in a respectful way to the employee. All too often there are reports of employees receiving the news in an email whilst they are on holiday, or finding out by letter or a phone-call. Quite often, employees are not told why they are being made redundant. It is extremely unfair to employees to be dismissed in this impersonal way and they are bound to feel discarded, anxious and resentful.

“A badly handled dismissal means the brain can slip into denial in an attempt to avoid the bad news. This can manifest in many ways such as belligerently going back to one’s desk and trying to carry on, or not telling the family and getting ready for work as usual next morning and leaving the house to just sit in a park. These are more extreme reactions, but milder consequences can be physical tension leading to muscle problems, nausea and headache; as well as mental stress with symptoms ranging from lack of concentration, anxiety or even depression. This is all avoidable if handled properly.  With a slight shift in perspective redundancy can become an opportunity and a good employer delivering the news can help here.”

Shaw argues that men in particular see their job as a huge part of their identity meaning the blow of redundancy can hit their psyche harder especially if they didn’t see it coming or if they are the main breadwinner. This is a stereotypical view, but holds true for many men who over identify with their job, whereas women take on several roles at any one time and still need to get on with those if they are made redundant. That said, Shaw says redundancy is highly stressful for both men and women.

“Employers could be doing so much more to help those who are being made redundant. If an employee has been with the company for an extended amount of time, they could be quite out of touch with new recruitment methods, and this will make it very difficult for them when seeking new employment. A redundancy package shouldn’t just be a severance settlement; it should include literature and contacts to assist them in finding a new job.

“Obviously whilst redundancy may be a necessity for a business; it is a total upheaval of someone’s life and they should be treated with respect. Without open and honest communication to employees, businesses will suffer. Although making redundancies is difficult for employers, clearly it is much harder to receive the news than to give it and we should all be a bit more mindful of that and stop putting our own discomfort and lack of time first.”

Top tips for handling redundancy from an employers perspective:

  • Be very clear about the situation and the reasons. Very clearly explain the reason for redundancy from the business perspective as knowing the real reasons will help the employee when seeking new work.  The more they understand about the situation, the better for their future employment. Be authentic.
  • Know your message well. Any discomfort about the situation may lead you to deliver the news in a quick and un-informative way.  Be confident when delivering the news to the employee, so they grasp that this is an informed and well thought out decision. Plan what you are going to say properly to avoid claims of unfair dismissal or appeal. Prepare some answers to difficult potential questions.  Think about what information you would like to know if you were in the same situation? How would you like to be told?
  • Prepare yourself to be emotionally available. You are giving upsetting news, and you must prepare yourself for a potentially emotional response. Emotions can range from anger, sadness or shock, and it is vital you handle the situation delicately. You should be comforting, but remain professional and calming without being condescending.
  • Allow for privacy and dignity. Ensure you tell the employee before the rest of the team find out.  Ask your employee how they would like to manage the rest of their day, would they like a private space to compose themselves and digest the information? Or would they prefer to go home and discuss options with their family? Do not discuss anything in front of other employees and be as discreet as possible to ensure respect for the individual.
  • Address your team. Redundancy affects the entire team; people may feel anxious about their own job security. Make sure you have open and honest communication and if there is a possibility of future redundancies, let your team know. Keep them informed and up to date about how well the company is doing, and make sure they know they can come to you with any worries or questions they may have.