• Jacki Rowles

Is it possible to have a redundancy process that is compliant and compassionate ?

Updated: Jun 13, 2018

HR redundancy processes can be both compliant and compassionate, I know this because I meet with people who are impacted by redundancy every week and not all experiences are the same.

Corporate restructures and redundancies follow a process driven by legislative compliance. It’s a one size fits all process designed to limit legal exposure. I get that! But compliance doesn’t have to exclude compassion.

Having worked as an OD/HR professional for many years and having lead and participated in many restructures and redundancies I understand first hand that the compliance process is critical in terms of the legal implications however, research conducted highlights that compassionless process attracts the very attention it is trying to avoid.

Research from the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) shows that disputes are more likely to be raised if an employee believes the process to be compassionless. They note, “the impact of not being compassionate is becoming clear in the management literature. When managers do not express compassion when conducting layoffs or pay cuts, employees are more likely to file wrongful termination lawsuits and engage in workplace deviance.” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/project-compassion-stanford/work-stress_b_3677513.html

Now in an era were change is constant driven at pace by what I call the 3R’s (Robots, Restructures and Redundancies) HR people cling to compliance as a safe way to get things done quickly for business. That’s great but what about the people? Most people as a consequence of redundancy experience a range of feelings such as anger, sadness, shock, rejection, embarrassment, self-doubt, fear, shame ….the impact of redundancy is significant in fact likened to other major life traumas such as death and divorce.

You may be wondering, what might a compassionate redundancy practice look like? Overall the process would need to be designed in such a way to notice and acknowledge another’s suffering, empathically feeling with the impacted person, and acting to ease the discomfort they may be experiencing by understanding their circumstance.

One positive trend that I have been noticing especially at the Executive level is that some companies in New Zealand are designing redundancy processes in consultation with the impacted person. Instead of imposing the company’s legally approved compliance timeline on the impacted person, thus giving back some of the control to the person impacted. That’s already psychologically more beneficial. They get to discuss and influence the terms of their exit such as the timeframe, communications scripts and support provided. Some organisations take personal situations into consideration such as one client told me that he was able to delay his leaving date to accommodate his pending wedding.

Barack Obama said, “Learning to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see through their eyes that’s how peace begins. And its up to you to make it happen.” He is talking about empathy and compassion, so how can we use this thinking to build better workplaces that embrace compassionate practices?

Here are some suggestions on how you might embrace a more Compassionate Redundancy Process within your organisation :

(1) Prepare scripts and other communication documentation from a place of empathy, use language that conveys compassion.

(2) Bring in experts to train your employees in empathy, self-compassion and compassion creating a supportive culture not one driven by pity and shame which is often an unconscious response of impacted employees.

(3) Self-compassion training is critical too, as most people I work with and who are going through a redundancy process tend to blame themselves for this circumstance. Self-compassion drives a more proactive mindset .

(4) Clear planning to where and when the communications will occur to safe guard employee privacy and dignity, and the support available both at the time (such as on-site counselling, EAP support) and after, via outplacement support.

(5) Develop a more confidential process that enables longer leaving time frames

(6) Extend EAP/counselling/Career Coaching to partners of those being made redundant as much fear and anxiety will be coming from family and loved ones.

(7) Offer budget support programs

(8) Look for ways to support existing staff following notification to ensure their emotional welfare is looked after too. Help rebuild morale, resolve fears about the future and restore confidence.

(9) Where appropriate look for ways to recognise, respect and value the past contributions of those staff affected by the redundancies. This helps reinforce to people past and present that you value your people and that the actions taken were business-related and unavoidable. It also sends the message to everyone that it was the positions being made redundant and not the people.

With the Robotic revolution at our doorstep, restructures and redundancies are imminent. Knowing that compassionate practices can actually support compliance I hope that you may be willing to review your restructure and redundancy practices. It may be helpful to start by asking yourself, what would I want in my compassionate redundancy process?


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