Don’t underestimate the impact of redundancy. Some people may shrug their shoulders and walk away while others may be delighted to receive a sum of money in expectation that they will soon find other work. But for many — people with young families and mortgages to pay — the impact may be terrifying. Here Bob Patchett looks at what employers can do to help.

How will they get another job, how long will they be unemployed, how will they pay the bills, and what if they can’t? Family and friends offer sympathy but little practical help. A terrible time. Unfortunately redundancy is a feature of life today as organisations reduce staff in order to survive in challenging times. As a manager you may fully understand the rationale behind a redundancy decision, while appreciating how affected employees may feel, but you can offer them far more than sympathy; you can offer practical help.

Although most redundant employees are likely to appreciate, albeit not take advantage of, offers of help, you really should focus on the people who truly need it. And the most urgent and in some ways most useful type of help is counselling, the purpose of which is to convert redundant employees from victims into active and confident jobseekers. Unless you have resources in-house, you would do best by bringing in qualified counsellors, ideally registered with the British Association of Counselling, which has high professional standards. The best form of counselling is conducted on a one-to-one basis, possibly for three or four sessions with a considerable amount of homework between meetings. Though expensive, this would be money well spent. However, if you have a large number of employees to deal with, a counsellor may be able to do useful work with groups. If redundancy is not staring you in the face but cannot be ruled out for the future, you would do well to prepare a programme of help, train a few people to carry it out and thus be prepared if a situation does arise.

A counsellor probably would suggest ways the redundant employee can dispose of negative feelings, for example by writing them down in a private notebook or on a note that could later be destroyed. If an internal executive such as a personnel officer were to provide this opportunity, then he or she could expect some strong criticism of the employer. This is normal and expected; few people like to be told they are redundant, they need someone to blame, and the employer is the obvious one. But whoever does the counselling should quickly move the employee towards positive thinking. Have the employee start a notebook so that the person can think about and write down his or her strengths and weaknesses. The boss, work colleagues and friends could all help here because we tend not to be fully aware of our real selves, our performance and how we come across. The exercise should continue with a list of likes and dislikes. Many people drifted into a career because they did not know what they wanted to do or because of parent pressure, so this exercise is a splendid opportunity for redundant employees to consider what they would really like to do and whether they have the appropriate skills before going in search of appropriate employment.

Redundant employees will, doubltess of their own accord, register with employment agencies and scour the press, but you should encourage them to accept a bit of training, especially if they have not had to look for work for a long time. First teach them how to write a CV. You could of course write this for them, but they should understand that one written by a third party is unlikely to have the same impact as one written by themselves, and different job applications may need different emphases in the document. You could train them in the techniques of being interviewed; personnel staff in particular should be able to point out what they themselves look for when interviewing and might usefully run seminars to enable the employees to get some practice. Older people made redundant may not appreciate the extent to which social media is used in recruitment by both parties, therefore some training in using this media could be useful. But perhaps the most valuable piece of training is encouraging them to identify a network of people they know — from friends, school, college, social groups — and urging them to make contact, so many per day or week. The contact should not be “Have you got a job for me?” but rather “I am a shipping executive with experience of exporting and importing to and from the Far East”, and then “If you know of anyone who might have use for me, I would be grateful if you would put us in touch with each other”. The implicit suggestion that the person has a good range of contacts often prompts them to want to prove the point by looking for someone who might help. It really does work!

Often payments are made to redundant employees to have them leave the premises with short notice. This gets them out of the way, the employees may be glad of the money, but this may be primarily to avoid employer embarrassment. You might do better by giving them the opportunity to use the organisation’s telephones, photocopiers and other office services. If the numbers of employees warrant it, an office could be set aside with a couple of phones, a copier and issues of newspapers and trade magazines that contain job vacancies to enable the employees to carry out their job-hunting activities away from the distractions of home. This would also have them accept that finding alternative employment is a full-time job in itself. However, you should make clear to them how long this support will be available so that they do not treat the resource as a permanent out-of-work social club.

A good employer will do all that is practicable to help employees who are redundant, therefore it is so important for you to ensure that they are not treated as unclean or unwelcome — by managers or by colleagues. Indeed, the more work colleagues at all levels show concern and support, the better the affected employees will feel. They are unlikely to feel on top of the world, but neither will they feel like second-class citizens.

Redundant employees who have two years’ service with their employer are entitled in law to have reasonable time off with pay during their notice period to find alternative work or training opportunities, and the latter is particularly important for those who have worked out that they really want to get into quite a different type of employment or indeed go self-employed. Although this is a right for qualifying employees, nevertheless people with shorter service have similar needs, therefore you may consider extending the benefit to all redundant employees.

Making people redundant is not a pleasant task, even though you accept fully the reason for the decision. However by helping people who need it and treating them decently, you will do them a great service, enhance the reputation of the organisation as a caring employer — and are likely to feel better yourself.

Last reviewed 2 August 2017