Redundancy and its aftermath are often compared to the experiences of people dealing with grief. This may sound alarming until one considers that, when dealt with properly, grief is a process that can be resolved – redundancy is a cycle that has a conclusion.
It is important that any organisation implementing this sort of change (HR, line managers, the Board) understands that those effected by the redundancies will be at some stage in this grief cycle. This needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with staff.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss, notes that these stages do not necessarily pan out in a strict linear fashion. We can flip from one to another. These emotions can last seconds or hours.
It is also worth considering that some, if not all, of these reactions could be experienced by employees who have avoided redundancy. Having close colleagues suddenly whisked away is also traumatic.
With some knowledge of the grief cycle, HR can begin to understand how individuals may react during the redundancy process.
Denial can happen instantly and last for some time. Self-esteem and one’s sense of place in the world takes a brutal knock leading a sense of isolation. It is important, at this stage, for the employee to know what support they have in place from the organisation as well as any external support available. They may not be in the right emotional place to use that support straightaway but they should know that it is there.
Anger is a natural reaction to hearing that you are no longer wanted by your employer. This is a purely emotional response and it is important to understand that employees may behave irrationally and with high emotion when experiencing this stage. They will find it difficult to use logic or to make decisions. Keep communicating clearly at this stage and remain logical about the business reasons behind the redundancies. During the last recession, anger was said to be less prevalent due to employees’ greater understanding of the global crisis and their embroilment in it.
Bargaining is often a futile attempt to regain control at the consultancy stage. Employees may try to negotiate for their “old life” to be restored. In grief, David Kessler sees bargaining as a series of ‘if only’ statements often accompanied by guilt. It is important to keep communication clear at this stage and ensure that no false promises are made by line managers or anyone else involved. Do not give false hope.
Depression can feel like the fog of grief wrapping itself around the bereaved. A sense of worthlessness subjugates action. Negative thoughts crush motivation. Existential questions of life’s meaning or lack of one stifle the healing process. This is where emotional support and resilience coaching by third parties can be really useful for those effected. It is also useful for the individual to be counselled and understand that this is just a “stage” of the process and will not last.
Acceptance is not a done deal where we dust ourselves down, take a deep breath and march into the future leaving all that trauma behind. It is often a quieter acceptance of the new reality and that past events have changed us. The bereaved begin to live again. This is where the employee can start to truly look forward and engage with the options and opportunities that lie in the future. This is the point at which the individual can engage with their career transition and, with the right support, start to feel optimistic about the future.
Dynami offers support to HR and management throughout the whole process of implementing a redundancy programme. This includes corporate communication, line manager training, HR and employment law advice as well as a fully flexible and person-centred outplacement programmes. We also run programmes to enable leaders to lead through change and to build team spirit and resilience within those employees remaining in the organisation.
If you’d like to find out more about our approach, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be delighted to have a chat!
1. On Death & Dying: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D.
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