If you’re an employer who has been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, you’ve probably had to let some people go. While making redundancies is never an easy decision, the very real need to communicate any such changes to the wider team during such a busy and stressful time shouldn’t be ignored.
In particular, a massive upsurge in remote working over recent weeks has seen many employees lose day-to-day contact with colleagues. A change within the team is hard to hide when everyone is sharing the same space. But when most or all of your team are working online, you would do well to avoid cases where employees may get the wrong message at the wrong time, or remain unaware that certain colleagues are no longer with the company. While no-one enjoys sharing bad news, the effects on morale from either not sharing or mistiming your redundancy communications could be highly detrimental.
Here are some tips for how to prepare for the redundancy conversation with your team.
Start communicating early
While it’s understandable that companies won’t want to send company-wide messages every time someone leaves the organisation, it’s still important for company leaders to tell their teams about any such changes in a timely, co-ordinated and consistent manner.
There’s no hard and fast rule for when you should share the news of a team restructure, other than letting the people who are being made redundant know first before the rest of the team. A general rule of thumb to communicate changes within the team is the earlier the better, though. Delaying the news could see you losing control of the narrative, and lead to negative sentiment among staff.
Keep it transparent and professional
Announcing one or more redundancies can be a highly emotional process for everyone involved, including the wider team. You’ll need to be respectful and compassionate, but also professional.
Start with the essential facts and provide employees with a clear outline of the current situation and, potentially, how it affects them. Putting out complicated, wordy, or excessively polished messages will only make employees feel confused or worried. A good approach is to keep it simple and stick to the facts.
Transparency is key. Explain how the company’s core mission and values provide the foundation for the changes and hard decisions the business has made or is making. Importantly, clarify how the changes will help to stabilise and maybe even help to rebuild the business.
Setting realistic expectations regarding future redundancies is also crucial. While there are no firm rules for how to do this, helping employees understand the present situation will help them to be better prepared for any changes further down the line.
Choose the right channels
When staff don’t have the option to speak face-to-face, you’ll want to make sure that any messages regarding employee redundancies don’t get lost in the general noise of online communication.
Overcommunication is especially critical when your team is working remotely. A simple email announcement can be sufficient for more distant colleagues or vendors. Within the team, however, it’s recommended you set aside time for one-on-one voice or video calls to answer any questions, and thus help staff avoid drawing the wrong conclusions. Following up with a group video meeting that includes all close team members is a good way to demonstrate team solidarity and gives you an opportunity to address any other questions people may have.
Be ready to join the broader conversation
No matter how well you try to control the messaging and timing of bad news, there’s always a chance that informal conversations about the change will take place in private emails, online chats, and other forums, including social media.
This can be an opportunity to curate the conversation by actively participating and, where necessary, offering clarification when you see that facts are being misquoted or misunderstood.
Importantly though, don’t try to suppress people’s voices, or contradict statements without having facts and figures to back it up. While joining the conversation is sometimes necessary from a branding or reputation perspective, the most important thing is to make yourself available if people have questions or concerns about the news.
Be available and supportive
As a manager, you want to avoid being hard to reach after delivering news of the redundancy. In fact, studies have shown that being more visible as a leader plays an important role in fostering calmness, reason and a sense of solidarity with staff. After redundancy, remaining members of the team are certain to have questions or concerns about their own job security, so it’s important that you make it clear that as their manager, staff can always reach out to you if they have questions, whether now or later. If your company offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), this is also an opportunity to remind staff that such services are readily available, should they need it.
During times of transition, effective communication with staff is more important than ever. Being empathetic, approachable and authentic in your demeanour as well as clear, transparent and timely in all your employee redundancy communications will help you to not only maintain team trust and loyalty, but also enable you to be a more effective leader during this difficult time.