Breaking bad news to employees at work – the envoy’s role in redundancy


Envoys are people that are found
widely in organisations that have the role of telling people or providing people with
downsizing decisions. Usually that involves
delivering bad news and telling people
they’ve been made redundant or are likely to be made redundant.
Although that’s not always the case. But it’s not just a one-off thing. It’s an ongoing relationship quite often for a period of weeks. So there is that initial message
that’s delivered and then beyond that, you have the idea that they carry on
in terms of providing counselling, offering advice,
providing information and so on. Dealing with a human side of letting
people go seems a pretty thankless task. It’s hard work and emotionally draining. The only reward you’re likely to get
for not completely messing it up is the likelihood of being asked
to do it again further down the line. So how do employers recognise a really
difficult job managers have to do in these situations? They can start by supporting the
development of soft management skills and by acknowledging that often,
the way you do things is as important as what you’re doing. And that means that sometimes
emotional intelligence comes first. It’s a question of emphasis and saying, “Hang on,
in these redundancy situations, managing the emotions of everyone
involved is going to be a priority.” There’s a film that people refer to
called Up In The Air that stars George Clooney
and in that, his sole role is to go round telling
people that they’ve been made redundant, that’s his job. But I didn’t come across
anybody like that. In my own research,
they were all just standard managers, standard HR people who undertook
this role when it was necessary. And usually when they took it up,
it was because they felt they ought to because they were dealing with
their staff. So they thought they had
a moral responsibility to deliver that sort of news
to their staff. Having to leave your job, a job that may have given you
a sense of identity as well as friendship and pride
and not to mention a pay packet, can be devastating. And everyone deserves to be treated
with respect and dignity, no matter whether they’ve been working
for you for two years or 20 years. So what’s ACAS’s advice to employers? In one word, psychology. Try and look a little at
what’s going on beneath the surface. Not just during difficult times. How are people interacting?
What’s making them really tick? And look at the competencies
you have for line managers, maybe increase the weight
given to so-called soft skills. Tough times may produce tough leaders, but for organisations
to thrive in the future, they also need
a great deal of sensitivity. We should care because we need to think
about the psychological pressures that people experience in organisations. We should care because the envoys
are an important group of people in terms of how the victims,
as we tend to refer them, leave organisations
as a consequence of downsizing. We should care because the envoys
themselves are under a lot of pressure and often that pressure lasts for
a considerable amount of time. So we need to think about
their well-being. But in a more business
and practical sense, we need to care because it’s about the future of
the organisation as it stands once it’s gone through
a change process. Particularly if it’s been
a downsizing change. That it’s well placed,
that the people in it are fully engaged and feel that
they have been treated well. so that you’ve got
that level of engagement and you’ve got that sense of
a positive feeling of moving forwards. And that hopefully that will deliver
the sort of performance that any organisation,
whether public sector or private sector, will need to meet the challenges of
probably the next decade I would think.

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