Leaving Stories

By the time we work with individuals with outplacement support many are battered and bruised by their experience of redundancy.  Confidence can be low and many are anxious about an uncertain future.

When we work on helping individuals to process the emotion of redundancy, a fundamental part is the message and rationale they received at the start of the consultation period – this is where the story begins and this is the narrative they carry with them for a long time after they leave.

A leaving story after redundancy is:

  • The narrative an individual carries with them, their truth about what happened – this may be different to the reality and facts of the situation
  • The way in which they talk about their redundancy with others – after almost 10 years I still say ‘when I was made redundant’, even though I know it was my role and not me
  • How they present their redundancy at interview – being able to talk dispassionately about what happened is a key part in preparing for an interview

Having a leaving story is important for a number of reasons as it helps to:

  • Understand those things that were out of their control at the time – a redundancy is something which happens to someone and not because of them
  • Focus on the circumstances and rationale – what were the contributing factors that led to the decision to reduce headcount
  • Build confidence knowing that their redundancy wasn’t their fault – it was their role that was made redundant, they still take with them all their valuable skills and experience
  • Draw a line under their redundancy and look to the future – having a future focus will help with positivity and maintaining a sustainable job search

A leaving story begins long before an individual is made redundant, for many the announcement of proposed redundancies is the first chapter.  No matter how many times you emphasise it’s roles and not individuals that are made redundant it always feels personal.  You can’t legislate for individuals making up their own truth about the situation, which is why a robust rationale and consistent messaging is so important.

When you’re working with leaders preparing the announcement I would encourage you to go into as much detail as possible about the rationale.  The announcement sets the tone for the rest of the consultation period and is an opportunity for leaders to step up and be accountable for having to make tough decisions. 

There is also an opportunity for leaders to show their human side and let the rest of the organisation know how much these decisions mean to them – the whole organisation will be watching.

Here are some things to include in the announcement:

  • What’s the rationale – in detail, not just ‘as a result of Covid-19’
  • What alternatives have you considered before proposing redundancies
  • What have you already done to help protect jobs
  • What else are you continuing / introducing to minimise proposed job losses
  • What’s the business strategy moving forward – short and long term
  • What other measures are in place to limit the number of proposed redundancies
  • What’s the impact of making the proposed redundancies – how does it protect jobs and contribute to the ongoing viability of the business
  • How will your company values inform how the process is handled, what are your guiding principles for the proposed redundancies
  • What can individuals expect in the days and weeks ahead
  • What support will be on offer during the process – signposting people to internal and external sources of support
  • What does this announcement mean to the leadership team – the impact of the announcement, the difficulty of the decision (without going into sympathy)

The announcement by the CEO of AirBnB in May 2020 was notable for the depth he went into about the background, he showed his human side and talked about the guiding principles of his company and how these would inform the process.

Having a clear message is important both legally and morally.  It matters to those who are impacted as well as to those who remain in the organisation.  Everyone wants to know the process is based on a sound rationale that will ultimately mean the business remains viable and protects jobs in the future. 

Those who remain want to know that their friends and colleagues are being treated with respect and dignity and that an organisation is standing by its company values.  A redundancy process is a time of turbulent change for a business and a time in which key talent can often decide to look elsewhere, so the message matters to them too.   We all know it’s a small world and challenging times are when leaders have an opportunity to deliver messages that individuals will carry with them a long time after they leave.

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