Knowing your employer is about to announce layoffs is one of the worst feelings you can have in your career. While you hope you’ll be able to keep your position, it’s likely you’re worried about your colleagues too - and it’s even worse if you are close to them.
Businesses across the UK are continuing to struggle as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. The number of redundancies in the UK has risen at the fastest pace since the financial crisis, despite more than half of furloughed workers returning to their jobs after the lifting of lockdown.
Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 156,000 people were made redundant in the three months to July. This is an increase of 48,000 from the three months to the end of May - and the sharpest quarterly rise since 2009.
And with further local lockdowns and restrictions within restaurants and pubs amid a second wave of the virus, it’s likely many firms will continue to struggle for some time. But what impact can witnessing redundancies have on remaining employees - and how can employers help support people through these hard times?
“We may not always see the world of work like this, but every employee is a human being. And in the current times we face, companies are making decisions around redundancy on a regular basis,” says Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant.
Initially, many employees feel relief and gratitude that they’re still employed. But for many people, this can quickly fade into guilt and grief.
“You see people who you have working relationships with, those talented and kind faces gone,” Chambers says. “Uncertainty sets in, what else negative might happen. Maybe it's my turn next; maybe the company is struggling. Who is going to pick up the work from those who have been shown the door?”
And these worries and fears are even more amplified with many people working remotely at the moment. There is no symbolic clearing of desks, no support offered in the kitchen.
“Now you're sat at home, wondering if you will be the next one to have your Zoom credentials removed, knowing it's a challenging job market,” Chambers says. “Just that lack of presence and communication can leave you feeling very exposed and vulnerable yourself while feeling guilty about your relative security and compassion for those that have been made redundant.”
There are several steps employers can take to make people feel more secure and supported during this challenging period. Firstly, communication is key.
“For many of us, our colleagues are connected to us. We can potentially spend 40 hours a week in their company, and it can feel like losing a part of ourselves when they are made redundant,” Chambers says. “This needs to be handled with both awareness of the situation, reassurance that you understand, and creating a space for people still employed to process and absorb the changes.”
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It’s crucial for employees to be kept in the loop with any changes or updates. Keeping people in the dark will only spread anxiety and encourage rumours to spread.
“Communication is also vital to help employees understand why the action was taken, and what that will mean for their role moving forward,” he adds. “Don't leave employees phoning around each other to find out everyone's fate. When the decision is made to let people go, prepare the organisation’s structure and communicate that so your employees know how their role may change.”
Management needs to be on the same page, so ensure everyone is informed in an honest way. Making empty promises of security won’t help, as it’s clear there are problems if redundancies are being made.
It’s also important to make that extra effort to get employees connected with others across the organisation, Chambers adds.
“With many people remote working, they don't have to walk to the next site or the other side of the building. Create projects that forge new teams together, and create ways for them to have space to explore together without work-based outcomes,” he says.
“Finally, in such challenging times, appreciation is the boost that employees need. Make this intentional and personal, write them a note, a letter or a small gift. Refer to things they have achieved, have put effort into and have made a difference in. Consider their personal situation, and write it from the heart.”