Anxiety-causing, uncertainty-creating, fear-inducing times.
Redundancies pose so much more of a threat than to just your job – they affect your family, your home, your lifestyle, your health. Almost everything gets called into question.
With the effects of COVID-19 now really starting to be felt by businesses, redundancies are unfortunately becoming a reality for a huge number of people. Only last week an additional 12,000 jobs were confirmed to be at risk across UK firms, and they’re just the ones hitting the headlines.
I’m involved in a redundancy process right now, and have gone through this a couple of times in the past from both sides – leading the process, and being put at-risk. It’s at times of uncertainty like this that we look to our leaders for guidance and support more than ever. Redundancies (or the threat of being made redundant) trigger a range of emotions for everyone, and that’s ok. They’re difficult situations to handle. I’ve seen everything spanning anger, frustration and denial – and seen people assume each of the dreaded drama triangle roles of victims, persecutors and rescuers (thanks to my manager for recently for coaching me on these roles and what they mean 🙌).
They’re pressing times, and they call for strong leadership.
😔 Supporting those at-risk of redundancy
Your colleagues who have been put at risk of redundancy need your support, whether they’re people you manage or your peers. Particularly for the people you manage, they need to know you’re there for them, and they need to know how you’ll support them. Here are a few pointers on how you might support people affected in your teams.
❓ Familiarise yourself with the process
You or those you manage might have never been through a process like this before, so it’s likely there will be a lot of questions. Take some time to familiarise yourself with the redundancy process – the timelines, the key milestones, the consultation sessions you might need to attend. Reach out to your People/HR rep too so they can help answer any questions that you’re not sure about. Nobody is expecting you to be a redundancy expert, but as a leader you should at least be able to direct people to find the answers they need.
🔮 Encourage people to be clear with you about what they need
Some people want to be left alone. Others want a constant channel into you to chat regularly. Find out what people need, what they are most worried about, and do what you can to support them. I usually want to be left to process things myself initially before talking about it with someone – in that case, I don’t want to be asked every day if I’m ok, how I’m feeling etc etc. Get that clarity upfront from the people you’re leading, and let them know you’re there for them.
🙋♀️ Treat people as individuals
This might sound simple, but once you’ve found out what people need from you, tailor your approach to them. Everyone will react differently and their emotions might change over time as the process plays out – personal circumstances might change, they might need time off to look for new jobs and interview, or they might lean in to their work even more as a coping mechanism. Treat everyone as an individual and spend the time with them that they need.
🧟♀️ Share how you’re feeling
Sometimes it’s easy to look at your manager or a senior leader and think they’re fine, or they’re not really affected by what’s going on. Remind people that you’re human too, and share how you’re feeling. Be vulnerable, but be considerate of how your thoughts will impact those around you, particularly if you’re speaking from a position of leadership.
I’ve seen a senior leader a long time ago (who wasn’t at risk of redundancy) try to lighten the mood by talking about how they’d just spent a fortune on something extravagant in front of a group of people who were worried about whether they’ll have a job next month or not. Don’t be that person.
👏 Reassure where you can
This is a tricky one. During a fair process you can’t offer any guarantees to anyone at risk of redundancy, but you can reassure them if they’re having doubts about their ability. Being put at risk of redundancy raises a lot of questions. You question your performance, your core skills, yourself as a person. Am I not good enough? Do people not like me? Have I been found out as an impostor? As someone’s manager you could maybe point to some recent positive feedback someone in this position has received, or something they’ve worked on recently that has had a good impact. Don’t give false hope, but do share feedback and let them how they’re performing as you usually would as their manager.
Make sure that you’re not speculating on the process with anyone though, and remember to lean on your People/HR rep if you need support about the boundaries you need to respect here. If your company has an Employee Assistance Plan too, signpost people towards this as they can be a great source of support during these uncertain times.
😕 Supporting your teams who aren’t at-risk
Redundancies have just been announced, and you’ve found out you’re not in one of the roles identified as at-risk. Phew! Business as usual then 🤔
It’s clearly not quite that simple. Even though some people might not be at risk of losing their jobs, it’s likely that their friends, colleagues and peers who they respect and love working with could be at risk.
It’d be easy to overlook those who are staying as ‘they’re ok’, but remember that these groups are critical to the future success of your teams and the company. They need to be heard, supported and given time to process the news too, so make sure you invest time with them. Be clear on what they need and how you can support them through the process, just like you would with somebody at-risk.
🕰 Re-prioritise your time
Announcing redundancies comes at a cost. Companies have to accept a productivity hit when going through this process and factor that into the total cost of making the decision. You need to accept that your job is likely to be different throughout the process too, and it’ll depend on your own situation (particularly if you’re placed at-risk and expected to lead others through it).
To adapt and do your new job properly, you need to reprioritise. I’ve done this recently by identifying the things I will be spending time on, and then sharing those loudly by posting in my team and leadership Slack channels. Make sure your teams and your peers know that your job will be different for a while, and that you might be less present in certain meetings or team ceremonies. Invite your manager to review your priorities with you if you’re not sure. Build more free time into your calendar too – I’ve done this recently by removing myself from some non-critical meetings and shortening others.
🧘♂️ Take care of yourself
Remember to take care of yourself during this process. You won’t be much use to those who need you if you’re stressed, tired and drained when they reach out. There’s understandably a lot of emotion involved in these situations, and you need to be careful not to shoulder too much of everybody else’s thoughts and feelings. I’ve fallen into the situation recently where I’ve felt like I’m carrying the concerns of dozens of people around with me, and it can become all-consuming. Make time to do the things you enjoy – and try out a couple of different techniques for lightening the emotional burden you might have found yourself carrying (meditating, exercising etc).
The redundancy process can feel like it’s lasting forever. If your company is making 20 or more redundancies in the UK, it’s going to last for at least 30 days, so be prepared. That’s a long time for everyone involved, so taking care of yourself whether you’re directly involved in the process or not is crucial to getting through it intact.
It’s also important to recognise that you’re already in an uncertain, uncomfortable situation with COVID-19, and redundancies are only going to compound that. We’re not doing all of the things we were able to do four months ago like regularly seeing family, friends, and colleagues, and we’re not able to do some of the things we enjoy.
Now more than ever you need to look after yourself 🤗 🧘♂️