Redundancy - No need to crush them

The culture of making someone redundant has changed so much because of the fear of litigation that workers are leaving crushed, according to cognitive psychologist and business neuroscientist, Dr Lynda Shaw.

Shaw argues it is not the actual redundancy that is the problem, but a stripping of dignity and the destruction of self-esteem during the delivery of redundancy news that has developed in recent years. “Employees are not stupid and usually reluctantly accept redundancy has to happen.  The difference is previously we used to be given a fairly substantial pay off which went hand in hand with the news being broken gently, with an aim at preserving integrity and self-esteem and often some help to find something else fitting.  We were more often than not told that it wasn’t personal and that company circumstances had changed and the job is no longer available, and our achievements were listed along with any performance issues.

“These days’ employers fear litigation so much that businesses increasingly present lists of their failures to the employee, perhaps make them re-interview for their own job and focus only on negatives to justify the decision.  Today redundancy is increasingly a common career event that many of us will experience at some stage but with an aim to reduce litigation, redundant employees are left with feelings of failure and inadequacy.”

“Finding a new job is hard enough, but if you are feeling doubt, fear and inadequacy then a job search becomes even harder.  Work life has been taken away and not by choice; add to that a new feeling of isolation and a loss of routine, and anger, anxiety or depression may just be around the corner.  It is unhelpful and counterproductive because we just antagonise the employee, crush their confidence for future jobs, reduce their self-worth, make them angry.  I always say be kind to people on your way up because not sure who you will see on your way down. Treat as you would want to be treated.”

Neuroimaging studies show that the emotional pain of rejection activates the same areas in the brain as physical pain.  In fact, we are hard wired to live in the safety of our social tribe, so the emotional pain of rejection is extremely strong and can negatively affect our ability to make good decisions and think clearly.   “Not only do we face a potential income crisis with redundancy but we can also potentially lose our sense of identity and structure which means that delivery of the redundancy is crucial.  Even the traditional family dynamic may change with partners having to step up to earn more money and the family may have to face numerous hard decisions.

Shaw points out that these days, people made redundant can be referred to therapists through a network linking Jobcentres, GP surgeries and NHS Direct. “My advice to the employee would be don’t face redundancy alone, tell someone close to you how you are feeling. Remind yourself that your position was made redundant rather than you were and accept it was a business decision.  Stick to a timetable to finding new work, but also take time to get out of the house; exercise is a great way to spend some energy and have a healthy goal.  If you can take an extended holiday this year; now might be the time to spoil yourself and rethink your career plans.  Alternatively try a new hobby or get involved with a project that you care deeply about.”

And to the employer making the redundancy decision?  “Consider that your delivery of bad news has the potential to make or break someone.  Give that employee the chance for it to be the making of them. It may be harder to offer a great package these days but it no harder to offer compassion.”


  1. Be very clear about the situation and the reasons but be authentic.  Very clearly explain the reason for redundancy from the business perspective as knowing the real reasons will help the employee when seeking new work.  The more they understand about the situation, the better for their future employment. 
  1. Know your message well.  Any discomfort about the situation may lead you to deliver the news in a quick and un-informative way.  Be confident when delivering the news to the employee, so they grasp that this is an informed and well thought out decision. Plan what you are going to say properly to avoid claims of unfair dismissal or appeal. Prepare some answers to difficult potential questions.
  1. Prepare yourself to be emotionally available. You are giving upsetting news, and you must prepare yourself for a potentially emotional response. Emotions can range from anger, sadness or shock, and it is vital you handle the situation delicately. You should be comforting, but remain professional and calming without being condescending.
  1. Allow for privacy and dignity. Ask your employee how they would like to manage the rest of their day, would they like a private space to compose themselves and digest the information? Or would they prefer to go home and discuss options with their family? Do not discuss anything in front of other employees and be as discreet as possible to ensure respect for the individual.
  1. Give them all the facts; let them know about their right to appeal.  Employees can appeal if they feel they think they are being dismissed unfairly. Offer them all the information available when delivering the news.  For instance, give them contact details of people they can seek advice from if they so wish.
  1. Help them with re-employment.  Don’t just cast your employee out without a second thought, you have a duty of care for all your employees. Go through their options with them, highlight their key transferrable skills, and offer some new career path options. If you have any contacts such as recruitment agencies or contacts you have made in your industry, offer your employee has some initial help at the beginning of their job search.  They won’t feel as though finding new employment is such an uphill struggle and it will help their confidence and motivation.
  1. Remember also to address your team.  Redundancy affects the entire team; people may feel anxious about their own job security. Make sure you have open and honest communication and if there is a possibility of future redundancies, let your team know. Keep them informed and up to date about the how well the company is doing, and make sure they know they can come to you with any worries or questions they may have.

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