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Forgetting redundancy survivors can damage an organisation

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I have lost count of the number of redundancy programmes I have led in my experience as a HR professional in local government.

Each time a need for restructuring and downsizing comes around, whilst the people and the organisation may be differ, it doesn’t really get any easier to handle or manage the programme.

The change management policy and process is slicker and more refined, HR professionals are competent in this area and no longer need to blow the dust from the procedure, employees are probably expecting it at some point in their career, and those working in local government certainly understand the financial reasons for the cuts. So why is this new reality no easier to lead and manage?

The simple answer is that the ‘people dimension’ is the one variable that introduces the complexity, the emotional and psychological challenges that never fails to make every redundancy programme different from the last because every person affected is an individual with their own story and set of circumstances. Therefore, having a high degree of people management understanding and capability is an essential requirement for any leader managing a change programme in this area if they are to be successful.

HR professionals, amongst other leaders and managers, have had to develop a whole new repertoire in recent times in order to adapt and survive in a world of cuts, more cuts and even more cuts. The 21st century public servant characteristics capture these behaviours extremely well. Whilst the language and descriptors used in this research may be a source for debate, the sentiment behind them resonates with many of us in the public sector. Indeed they can help us better understand the world we now live and work in and, to some extent, provide an insight into what we need in our new skills set in order to survive and thrive.

Transformation programmes, restructurings, redundancies and downsizing - we all have our own terminology for describing the ever-increasing trend of change-on-change and all too often we focus a great deal of effort, time and resource into getting this right, managing these programmes successfully and exiting people out of the business.

However, the real challenge and focus for leaders and managers of people is how are we taking care of the survivors, the people who remain (for now) within the organisation? These are, after all, the people whom our future success is dependant upon. This is often forgotten or taken for granted because no sooner have we finished one programme, we move on to the next.

It is well established in research that the survivors of redundancies are often the ones ignored during the redundancy exercise as focus is placed on the process and exiting people out of the business.

You might think that staff who keep their jobs in the midst of redundancies would be pleased and relieved. However, redundancies and constant change can create a difficult climate for employees and, if left unmanaged, this can damage the organisation. A clear workforce and organisational development strategy can go a long way towards seeking to acknowledge and re-dress this balance.

The staff remaining in the business are the people who are probably experiencing survivor syndrome as well as a heavier workload and change fatigue. These are often the majority of our staff, sometimes around 85%, because the other minority e.g. 15% being made redundant take up the majority of our attention. We have to reset the balance and give something back.

The organisation’s future health and development relies on refocussing efforts and attention in to understanding and managing individuals that remain and investing in their development, morale and wellbeing. This will benefit the organisation as well as the individuals and ultimately create a healthy environment whereby these individuals can continue to develop, perform and flourish in order to continue to provide valued and precious public services.

Nikki Gibbons, director of transformation, organisational development and HR at Bracknell Forest Council

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