Minimising disruption and maintaining staff buy-in when changes are being made

Given how important it is to get the legal aspects of redundancies correct, businesses tend to focus energy and management time on the staff who are departing. However, it’s equally important to consider the staff who remain; the business will need a stable, committed workforce in order to survive economic turmoil. Here are some key practical tips for minimising disruption and maintaining staff buy-in when changes are being made.

Communication

It’s vital to build in a strategy for communicating changes to the wider workforce as well as those placed at risk of redundancy. This needs to be handled carefully and sensitively to avoid jeopardising the fairness of the redundancy process (particularly if collective redundancy consultation obligations apply; undercutting the consultation process could lead to expensive protective awards in the Employment Tribunal). But leaving the rest of the business completely in the dark while a redundancy process is ongoing may simply fuel the rumour mill and encourage staff to look elsewhere for work. Brief, clear messages to staff which do not undermine the business’ legal obligations may help reduce uncertainty and keep staff focused on their work.

Share the pain

Reducing staff numbers while not cutting back on other business costs may damage employee relations. Staff who feel redundancies are a first port of call for the business rather than a last resort may be tempted to look elsewhere. Retaining even modest management perks may undermine the message that everyone is in it together. And cutting back on discretionary spending is crucial: you might be tempted to hold a staff party to improve morale, but it might equally create resentment. Taking visible steps to share the pain across the business makes it more likely that the staff you still need will remain motivated and stay the course.

Treat leavers well

Don’t assume that when staff leave the organisation their colleagues forget about them. Businesses that get a reputation for treating staff badly during redundancy rounds often find it more difficult to keep existing staff. It is important to treat departing staff fairly and with dignity. If the business is not in a position to enhance redundancy payments on an ex gratia basis (in addition to meeting the legal entitlements to redundancy pay and time off to look for another job), providing practical support (e.g. help with CVs) helps to reassure the remaining staff that they are working for a fair employer.

Don’t neglect management

After redundancies are made, the remaining staff may have higher workloads and fewer resources. If an individual’s role or responsibilities have been affected by a restructuring, it’s sensible for their line manager to have regular discussions with them to monitor their workload and discuss any necessary support. There may be no simple solutions, but overwork can negatively impact productivity and, at its worst, lead to time off for ill health and potential claims against the employer. Staff who feel overloaded are unlikely to stay with the business long term if they can find another job.

Engage staff in decision making

Working for a business which is making redundancies can be very disempowering. Staff may be more engaged if they feel they have input into the organisation’s strategy and direction rather than just feeling that the organisation only complies with its minimum legal obligations. Setting up a staff forum can be one way of accomplishing this and may yield some useful ideas for the business as well as enabling management to keep an ear to the ground and monitor morale.

Jane Amphlett is a partner and Alex Mizzi a solicitor in the employment team at Howard Kennedy

When is change needed in business, and how can businesses successfully manage change? These seven tips will help you on your way.

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