How to communicate redundancies

With more news of job losses on the UK high street, and manufacturers closing, such as the Honda plant in Swindon, redundancies are a daily feature in our news.

And how the news of redundancy is communicated is a consistent theme across the media. The film capturing the employee saying ‘The company aren’t telling us anything’, ‘We don’t know what’s going on’ , ‘ I found out through a friend’.

So what can we do?

Today I have a guest post for you by Eleanor Tweddell (pictured above). She’s former in-house IC professional who is now running her own business, Another Door, as a redundancy mentor.

As well as the communications consultancy, Eleanor now works with people who have been made redundant and supports them through the shock to thriving. The Another Door community was inspired by working with businesses on change programmes, who only offered limited support for people affected.

“I work with businesses to think of all the inter-dependencies when redundancies are about to be announced. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time before the announcements but can save a lot of time afterwards. The Another Door community was created to support people after the news, to give them hope, inspire ideas and support action. It is never a great time being made redundant but it can be, one day, the best thing that happened to you”.

I’ll hand you over…

How to communicate redundancies

We know the media need a headline, and behind the scenes the company probably has done a bit of ‘communication’. But often, it’s not about the company. It’s about how line managers have been supported to break the news, and how well they have handled the situation.

Listening to endless uncomfortable stories about how people were briefed shows there is a real need for support. As someone who has been made redundant, and who has had to tell people their jobs have gone, I can empathise that the situation is challenging and pressured for all parties.

This is where internal communications teams can come into their own.

If internal comms is brought into the process early then the teams can develop detailed plans, with messaging and events sequenced to take into account everyone involved.

Bigger change

Redundancies are usually part of bigger organisational change. If the CEO has already been sharing their vision, regular performance updates, then often changes are less of a surprise. It’s important to keep bringing the message back to why changes happen but, once it’s about redundancies it’s time to get ‘micro’ and think about the people involved.

I’ve seen so many briefs about redundancies spend half the presentation talking about the new vision for the business, then right at the end deliver the killer line ‘so there will need to be changes, and some of your roles maybe affected’. As soon as that line is delivered no one really cares about your vision anymore. They are now thinking about their mortgage and their bills. (So true! – Rachel).

If redundancies are involved, the comms needs to be about people.

Here are a few more thoughts on how to navigate redundancy communications.

  1. Being brought in early to the process can help the overall plan (not just comms)

Most of the businesses I have worked for have brought me in very early on in the process. As one CEO I worked with put it “A good comms plan helps as a sense check if it’s a thought through plan overall”. Being part of the planning is a sensitive position but it also means people will be communicated in the right way, at the right time.

It’s not always easy for internal communications to get into that position. That sinking feeling when you get a call the day before a big announcement that ‘we need some comms to go out’, and its affecting thousands of people and you have an hour to work on it.

Often it depends on your relationship with HR and operations, and the board if its big organisational restructures.

  1. Working in collaboration with HR and PR create the most robust plans

Working in collaboration with HR and PR has always got me the best results. HR focusing on the detail, polices, procedures, IC focusing on the comms plan, messaging, sequencing and PR developing Q&A and responses. The magic triangle means that all scenarios can be thought of and planned for.

  1. Develop a line manager centred comms plan

Line Managers need as much support as individuals affected. And if this support is in place, then the experience is better for everyone involved. It’s similar to the ‘look after employees and customers will have a great experience’. If you focus on line manager support then the people receiving the news will have a better experience and feel more supported. Centralised communications which cut out managers can suddenly start to feel disconnected.

  1. Use crisis management plans as a starting point if time is against you

A quick win if you get that last-minute call is to use your crisis management plan as a template. We used to follow the incident/crisis plan templates if we didn’t have much time, distribution lists, briefing templates, names of internal influencers, internal contacts etc, should be all mapped out ready to go – so it leaves you with more time to focus on messaging. (That’s if you have a crisis management plan – what do you mean you don’t have one!)

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Crisis Comms Checklist

  1. Think wider than employees to produce the complete internal comms plan

People who sometimes get missed off the plan but are critical to the support network. Employees talk, customers talk, people talk. If groups of stakeholders and influencers are recognised in the initial planning stages then they can be brought in at the right time. Bringing people in creates respect and trust and it’s surprising how a quick phone call to let someone know what’s going on, how much good will and support that generates.

Groups who sometimes get missed:

  • Customer communications: those dealing with customers everyday will get asked what’s going one – what do they say. A ’line to take’ for call centres, retail staff, all employees actually, help the down the pub chat as well customer expectations.
  • Marketing and social media: internal comms teams often know what the external plans are, so can stop own goals of inappropriate posts and marketing campaigns. Involving PR teams mean that external comms can support internal messaging an reinforce company caring for employees.
  • External companies working inside the business: catering, security, facilities can often be external organisations now, but operate in-house teams. Including them in the comms brings can avoid a world of pain and mistimed activities.
  • External stakeholders: trade union reps, local / industry Government reps (local MPs)

It may be a bold statement but when internal communications team lead comms for redundancies I do believe the results are people centred, they deliver a better result for the business and can demonstrate how collaboration can be effective.

Redundancies are never good news. But how they are handled can affect people long after garden leave, long after notice period and will become what they remember about working there.

Investing in internal communications to get this right can’t be optional.

Post author: Eleanor Tweddell.

Thank you Eleanor, did you find this post helpful? As ever, I’d love to know your thoughts. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Would you like to read more on this topic? Do let me know and I’ll plan future articles to help you.

Learn about internal communication via my Online Masterclasses


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First published on the All Things IC blog 16 April 2019.


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