This blog first appeared on Changeboard on 4th September 2012
Why do your employees suddenly lose trust when you’re going through organisational changes? They’ve watched time and time again as you go through the same old redundancy process, following the letter of the law, accommodating personal circumstances when possible, and treating people well in difficult times.
But when their time comes, there are inevitable feelings of cynicism, doubt and suspicion. Suddenly they want detailed explanations of every minor point in writing, and they want to know the comparison of what you said and what the law says.
Accommodating an employee’s changing priorities
I’ve been on both sides of the table. As a manager, I’ve been frustrated when people suddenly lose faith in me. But I’ve also been through it – I became that suspicious cynic, and going through it gave me some insight. It enabled me to figure out what I would want to do differently as a manager or HR support.
The whole reason that you and your employees are in this boat is probably because things are changing. You need new skills. You have to cut cost. You’re moving the work somewhere else. By its very nature that means that things just won’t be the same. And yet you expect your employees to trust that the way you handle it will be the right way and the best for everyone. Why should they have that faith in you?
The employee has most likely spent their career with you in a mutually beneficial relationship. They’ve enjoyed the financial benefits of work, but they’ve probably had some personal satisfaction delivering for you. Now they don’t have to consider the latter. They have to focus on themselves and on finding a way through uncertainty by taking significant next steps and planning financially. And to do this planning, they will feel a need for every bit of information they can find.
Empathy goes a long way
So how can we help? First of all, don’t be surprised by it. When you’re challenged on how things will be managed, don’t consider this to be picky, disrespectful, irrelevant or unnecessary. The truth is that in times of uncertainty, many people need all the small things buttoned down. Because your company is changing significantly, there will be suspicion that ‘other things’ might change – your approach to how you manage people, for example.
You may have always been fair – even generous. The disruption that change brings means that nothing is guaranteed. People will want clarity, and they will probably want that in writing. So give it to them.
As managers and employers, a little bit of empathy goes a long way. Putting yourself in the shoes of the ‘at risk’ employee can really help you to prepare for managing the redundancy process. Telling them you have too much work to respond to their individual needs is just poor management and people skills. Referring them from one team to another is just frustrating. Prepare for it early, and have as much information as you can. Make time to to identify, address and respond to their questions.
The HR department with a fixed service-level agreement (SLA) is no good in this scenario. People need answers, and while a 3-day turnaround may seem quick to you, it’s a lifetime to those who are making decisions based on that information. The information they seek may not seem significant, but it could be to them.
Addressing the softer issues in the redundancy process
Find ways to adapt your processes. Can you change priorities? Can you dedicate a resource? Can you set up a surgery or a hotline? Can you put all the resources you have managing the processes into one control centre? Frequent interaction will help the processes. Allowing affected employees access to the people with the answers is an important part of their own process.
The important thing here is to remember the people part of people management. When your decisions have an impact on people’s lives, you need to be well-prepared. Take the time to lift your eyes from the paper that your plan is written on, and consider how to address some of the softer issues that will come.
Don’t be surprised. Be prepared.