"Support makes a huge difference to how ex-employees view their former employer " White

Every organisation knows that its people are its best asset but attention to employees’ welfare and motivation can drift when management teams are struggling to keep companies afloat in recessionary times.

In a largely service-led economy such as that of the UK, people can make up as much as 70% of business costs so it’s not surprising that when costs need to be reduced, redundancies are inevitable.

There are however a few things that companies should remember; the economy will come back, employer brand is as important as ever and investment in top talent will pay off by providing a route out of the recession.

Although the current economic situation is largely regarded as a global phenomena emanating from the financial services sector, there is no doubt that its impact has been felt across the UK as companies are forced to make redundancies as they consider downsizing and restructuring. Even the most responsible and caring of companies have had to let people go in order to survive and be in the best position to grasp opportunities when the green shoots of recovery appear.

Making redundancies
However, if companies act appropriately during this time they can find a way to protect the investment that have already made in the talent that runs the business and in its brand. How an organisation treats the people it is forced to let go will have a major impact – both positive and negative – on its future. Treating leavers without dignity and respect will not only damage the brand but it will potentially close off a skilled talent pool that could be called upon to re-enter the workforce when times are better. Just as important is the impact that it will have on colleagues or ‘survivors’ of the recessionary cuts. If they see their work mates being treated in a shoddy manner they will lose respect for the organisation and productivity will take a nose-dive which is the last thing a company struggling to survive can experience. It is vital for the success of the business that remaining employees are engaged, motivated and are psychologically committed to the business objectives. Also, when the economy improves, it is these people who will search for new roles in businesses which live their values.

One way businesses can avoid loss of reputation and any productivity dip is to provide support for those people leaving the business. This sends a strong positive message to those staying in the business and trust is not lost.

Support is offered through specialist outplacement companies that will work with former employees to prepare them for job-seeking or, if it is their preference, for starting a business or becoming an interim. It’s more than just CV improvements and interview technique workshops. Many providers offer one to one coaching sessions to really identify a person’s interests, strengths and weaknesses and to identify transferable skills for new career paths and opportunities.

Such support makes a huge difference to how ex-employees view their former employer – and indeed what they say about them publicly – as well as lifting their confidence in tackling the job market. Despite the initial shock of redundancy, those people who receive support in moving on tend to foster feelings of goodwill to the organisation they have just left and also suffer less in the transition period.

An informal survey of leading HR directors by Penna recently revealed that one of the key elements in a redundancy programme is open and honest communication to all. Without this, negative assumptions could be made and uncertainty does considerably more damage to the business than the bad news. Each of those interviewed agreed that companies should be candid about why changes are necessary and share the strategy and why it is essential for the health and survival of the business.


One participant put it very succinctly saying: “Communicate well, often and honestly. Support survivors through the difficult time but allow them to grieve for those that have had to go.”

Another advised: “It’s all about communication. Get the shape of the new organisation right and communicate a compelling vision of the future. People want to be part of an outcome.”

Another key element to surviving with a brand intact is investment in transparent and visible leadership. Running a business in a downturn demands a different set of skills to managing growth and expansion. Considering that any leaders in their mid-thirties have not experienced a serious recession, it is likely that they will need support to deal with a new set of issues. Resilience, tough single-mindedness and focus have to be balanced with humility, respect and an ability to lead in adversity. Now is not the time to cut back on executive coaching programmes in fact it is more important than ever in a downtime when new leaders are struggling with an unpredictable economic climate and are required to make vital decisions every day and to remain strong and confident for the workforce.

Even with support and development, leaders need teams to make things happen and despite the daily reporting of redundancies, companies are still recruiting and there is a fantastic opportunity to bring on great talent. To keep new and existing talent motivated and committed to the company, however it is important to invest in their development. Training budgets may have been reduced but cutting them completely could have a serious impact on an organisation’s ability to grasp recession-beating opportunities.

Organisations which adopt the following objectives in the unpleasant task that is redundancy, should gain respect and come out of the recession leaner but with their reputation as a good place to work, intact.

  • Minimising stress and strain on departing employees
  • Protecting the employer brand by demonstrating genuine care and concern
  • Reducing the impact on morale and motivation of those remaining

It is very difficult to measure the success of a redundancy exercise especially as few people being made redundant will consider it pleasant let alone the best thing that ever happened to them! However, if they feel that were treated fairly, that managers treated them with dignity and were prepared for the redundancy conversation and that they were assisted in finding a new job, they should harbour feelings of goodwill to the company, its managers and the brand. And, who knows, they may even come back in better times.

This article was written by Bev White, Managing Director, Career Transition at Penna.