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Published: 1 year

Is it possible to communicate redundancy in a compassionate way?

A manager can tell a subordinate in person, by email or even on Zoom that he or she is dismissing him or her. Which is the most humane solution and what approaches do managers use to communicate bad news?

Lehet-e együttérző módon kommunikálni az elbocsátást-

The first wave of mass layoffs in the US began when some of the biggest companies in the tech sector, including Google, Meta and Twitter, laid off thousands of employees in the final months of 2022. And the layoffs have continued worldwide in the new year, with more than 100,000 employees laid off since January 2023, compared to around 160,000 jobs cut in 2022. But the layoffs also affect other sectors, including finance, media, automotive, retail and many more.

This means thousands of workers have been - and remain - out of work. Affected workers will face this news in more ways than one. So far, company managers have used different strategies to implement the redundancies and different communication styles. The different layoffs have raised a central question: which CEOs have dismissed their workers "compassionately"? Companies that have implemented redundancies have taken very different approaches, explored in this BBC article.

Many workers have reported being dismissed in mass emails, having their badges deactivated on arrival at the office or being locked out of work messaging channels - often before they have been told the news. In the past few years, companies have also used video calls to notify large groups of workers that they were being fired. One of the best-known examples is the US mortgage company Better, which laid off 900 workers via Zoom in December 2021, sparking a huge outcry.

Beyond the actual mechanisms of the layoffs, executives have also chosen different methods to communicate staff changes. At Better, for example, CEO Vishal Garg was blunt: "If you are one of the people being called, you are part of the group being laid off," he said. \"Your employment here will be terminated. Effective immediately.\" Some managers took a different approach, explaining their decision in detail - in some cases taking personal responsibility, while others cited business results.

Naturally, the rise of teleworking - and, by extension, virtual redundancy - inevitably gives an impersonal character to the dismissal of employees, regardless of the approach or message. Nevertheless, experts say that there are ways of conducting redundancies that are inherently more "compassionate" than others. Jonathan Booth, associate professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at the London School of Economics, for example, says experts generally agree that companies should not carry out redundancies by email. Employers should definitely help employees feel that their employer and management really care about them," says Booth.

Employees who are left in doubt and don't know why they lost their jobs tend to have a harder time coping than others. According to US data from The Harris Poll and career development firm Intoo, 48% of the 2,024 employees surveyed in its 2019 study on layoff anxiety reported that a lack of information was fuelling their anxiety. In addition, while not an option for all companies, offering resources such as job placement or coaching, or severance packages can alleviate the distress caused by redundancy. For US workers, who largely rely on private insurance provided by their employer, Booth says companies should "at least help their employees to process faster access to state-provided unemployment benefits rather than company insurance."

We need to be honest about what redundancy really means

Conducting a compassionate dismissal is not as simple as choosing one approach over the other or following a dismissal protocol. Jessica Kriegel, a senior researcher in workplace culture at California-based corporate coaching consultancy Culture Partners, says it's conceivable that many people might feel badly if they were told the bad news in a video call, but she also imagines that Generation Z and the more digitally savvy might find it easier to learn they've been fired via a Zoom call than to face the fact face-to-face in a cramped office.

In addition, Kriegel says some industries are more inclined to communicate layoffs in a Òtactful wayÓ while others believe in Òputting a band-aid on itÓ. But which is better is ultimately up to the individual. \"It is the same with ending romantic relationships,\" he says. \"Some want to sit down and talk, some want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

The laid-off workers are people, not resources

Booth says workers need to be told why they are being made redundant, and it should be done in an empathetic way, face-to-face if possible. Transparency is also an important factor, Kriege says. He says he encourages managers to be more forthcoming, including informing teams "literally the second" they learn layoffs are coming. For example, the affected employee can start looking for a job before his or her current job is eliminated.

"Compassion means remembering that redundant workers are people, not resources, and should be treated as people, not resources," says Dan Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School. \"This would have implications for how we communicate information: respectfully, treating it as we would want to be treated."


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