The activities that redundancy immediately call for are easily brought to mind; it’s easy to find Governmental ruling on rights for those made redundant and the strict guidelines organisations must adhere to during consultation. In this sense, the practicalities are usually taken care of, but what of the psychological aspects of redundancy that are likely to affect different individuals in very different ways? To what extent does losing a job or colleague through redundancy feel similar to the grieving process of losing a loved one?
Having unfortunately being made redundant myself in the past I can speak from experience about the affect it has on not only a person’s mental and physical health, but also their self-worth & self-confidence. From this and from speaking with several of my former colleagues, I believe that the Kubler-Ross change curve applies to how an individual processes grief when going through redundancy, and can be used as a model to help manage and support exiting employees.
The Kubler-Ross change curve comprises five stages; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, and can be used as tools to help frame and identify what we may be feeling after a loss. As with grief, everyone has different experiences, and so they are not necessarily met in a linear order, nor may each stage be experienced at all.
The ‘This can’t be happening to me’ mindset is often the initial stage of the grieving process. After the shock of the news, it is common for people to bury their heads in the sand and hope the situation will blow over. The individual’s focus will be on the past and they may continue with ‘business as usual’ in the hope that it will ultimately not affect them. This can be for a multitude of reasons such as a lack of information, a fear of the unknown or a fear of looking like they have failed or let down colleagues or family members.
As an employer, it’s important to understand that your employee needs time to accept that their role is ending before any new information can be processed productively. At this early stage, make sure you are open to acknowledging the emotions that people are experiencing and retain an ‘open door’ policy for questions. If you are seen as unapproachable at this time, you may likely encounter resistance throughout the whole process.
Once the reality of the situation has settled in, the impact that this has on the individual can turn to anger. It is not uncommon for individuals to become angry at those around them at this time, whether towards a manager or colleagues that are not going through consultation, or towards the business for what they perceive is poor planning or a lack of care.
Accept that employees will naturally be resistance to the news. As the person who relayed the message, you may not be the person they want to open up to. Do not try to second-guess their emotions; rather, give them time and make sure there that when you are able to talk with them that you listen empathetically and communicate openly about what's going to happen.
We use bargaining as a delaying tactic to put off the change or try to find a solution that is generally unrealistic; this might include promising unrealistic changes, compromises or output, or even making offers of extreme lifestyle change. This is often accompanied by feelings of guilt that rise as the individual starts to question what they could have done differently.
You can best support your employee at this time by managing their expectations whilst reiterating that the redundancy is not personal – it is their role being made redundant, not them. Advise them on how they can use their skill and experience once they have moved on. Explain how you can help support them with what they need (training or resources) to move on effectively into a new role.
When the reality of the situation sets in the individuals may feel despair, grief and can feel intense sadness and perhaps appear withdrawn with the sense of loss.
Grief is part of the process of healing from loss, so don’t immediately think that this needs to be fixed as soon as possible – it’s a necessary step. People will have different ways of dealing with depression, so it’s important to be as open-minded and understanding to your employees’ needs as you can be. People will be unsure of what comes next, and so the more you can support them practically as well as emotionally and communicate how their knowledge and skills are an essential part of getting there, the likelier they are to move on to the next stage.
Acceptance is when the individual accepts the situation is real and that they will need to take action. This does not necessarily mean that are OK or happy with the situation they are in.
Your support doesn’t end here – ongoing emotional support may be needed to help your employee come to terms with their redundancy, particularly if they have been with the business or in a role for a long time. If you have kept an open dialogue with your employee throughout the change process, you will be in the best position to offer then the most effective support for their own particular situation.
Don’t forget that whatever size project, workforce change will affect more than the individuals directly made redundant. Ensure you communicate effectively throughout the organisation, as employees who remain are likely to be affected by workload changes or the loss of their colleagues as well.
Renovo are the UK’s leading specialist provider of career transition support. We provide Outplacement, Wellbeing and Resilience services to organisations of all sizes. If you are interested in understanding how you can provide support to your employees, then we’d love to talk with you.