Perhaps motivated by continued concerns about the state of the economy, or maybe just by an accident of timing, ACAS http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1461 has recently issued a revised version of its Redundancy Handling Guidance http://www.acas.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=877&p=0.
It contains nothing very new for the most part, except a debut reference to the role of the person nominated to tell the employee that he is at risk of redundancy. Having blithely advised on this process for many years (“….and then you just tell them ….”), it was only when called upon to make a redundancy within my own team some time ago that I realised quite how painful that role can be. This recognition by ACAS is both welcome and overdue.
The Guidance notes that how the employee is told that he is at risk (and by extension in cases where the formal consultation process is omitted, that he is redundant) can have a real impact afterwards. How well the employee copes following the redundancy, the morale and motivation of the survivors, and the overall success of the redundancy or reorganisation exercise can all hang upon how this part of the process is carried out. Although the tabloid newspapers gleefully report redundancies callously effected by email, text or unknowing bureaucrats from Head Office, the reality is that most employers do try to do their best with what is almost always a very unhappy situation. Consideration of the role of the “tellers” (also described in unbelievably grating management consultancy-speak in the Guidance as “downsizing envoys”) is very important. Some prior preparation must be desirable. ACAS recommends that the teller should be:-
(i) fully informed – clear enough about the rationale for the redundancy proposal at both a business and individual level to put this into context for the affected employee;
(ii) trained – or at least aware of the range of possible emotional responses by the employee, from tears to anger to solemn silence, so that he/she can consider in advance (especially as a first-timer) how to react to each;
(iii) supported – given someone else to talk to for morale back-up before and after the at-risk meeting.
What the ACAS Guidance does not provide (and cannot, for fear of forfeiting of its neutrality) is any pointers on the damage which an inept telling can do to the fairness of the dismissal in question. Your prior preparation should therefore also ensure that the lucky victim is clear what not to say – no jokes in a doomed attempt to lighten the mood (“Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was your day?”), no encouragement of the employee to make his representations in response there and then, nothing indicating that the decision to dismiss has in fact already been taken, nothing showing pleasure at the prospect of the employee leaving and above all, nothing conciliatory concerning the employee now at least having more time to spend with her new family. Try also to make sure that the teller did not retain his/her own job only at the cost of the employee being told.
A full copy of the ACAS research paper on this unenviable role: “Downsizing envoys” can be found at www.acas.org.uk/research.