Managers ill-equipped to handle job cuts

2003

The astonishingly careless attitude of many UK employers towards downsizing and redundancy programmes is revealed in The Work Foundation's latest monthly survey on workplace issues, Managing Redundancy.

The survey of 219 HR specialists has revealed that nearly half of UK employers (48 per cent) provide no training to help managers handle the legal, emotional and motivational fallout of job cuts.

And to make matters worse, fewer than a third have any strategy for managing the staff who remain, with only one in ten saying they are planning one.

Despite organisations overwhelmingly recognising that downsizing only works if the remaining staff are prepared psychologically to contribute fully to business objectives - 90 per cent agreed with this - many fail to provide support services for redundancy 'survivors'.

One in three organisations never offer career management assistance, nearly half don't provide support groups facilitated by the organisation and a quarter never provide any emotional support.

Unsurprisingly then, the survey showed that job cuts were likely to have a negative effect. An overwhelming majority of HR professionals (84 per cent) say that morale falls immediately following a redundancy programme. Two out of three say that employee commitment and productivity also drop. Eight out of ten agreed that survivors go through a grieving period.

Of the organisations that do or plan to provide training for their managers, two thirds offer training in how to let people know that there will be redundancies. Six out of ten companies help managers to listen to their teams’ concerns and to deal with the legal issues. But fewer than half provide help with how to deal with the emotional fallout of redundancies and only just over a quarter provide training in how to build morale.

As Nick Isles at The Work Foundation points out, when companies are making redundancies, managers tend to be the first people that employees go to with their concerns. They also play a vital role in maintaining employee morale, commitment and performance.

"Companies know that badly handled redundancy programmes are bad for the business," he says, "but may be unsure of how to improve the process. How employees respond may depend largely on the way the workforce is treated before, during and after the changes.

Recognising and preparing managers to break the news, be available to provide advice, information and emotional support, as well as help the process move forward should be an integral part of any organisational restructuring."

Further down the line, when the changes have had time to bed down, The Work Foundation found that more than a third of HR professionals believe that productivity eventually goes up. Slightly fewer - 28 per cent - believe that commitment to the organisation is strengthened, while a similar number say that morale goes up.

But some believe that the damage goes deep, with 15 per cent saying that staff turnover increases, and one in ten that morale goes down.

And although employers recognise that morale goes down after jobs cuts, fewer than one in four monitor changes over time and a paltry 6 per cent say that they have any plans to do so.