Practical tips on managing workforce change post-Brexit

Organisations need to look after those remaining if redundancies are needed

Although opinion is still divided between optimistic ‘Brexiteers’ and deeply concerned ‘remainers’, there does seem to be a consensus that the UK faces a period of economic and political uncertaintywhile it recalibrates its relationship with the EU following the referendum.

There is talk of deals stalling and investor and consumer confidence dropping, and many businesses may be considering whether they will need to make redundancies to weather the storm, particularly in sectors likely to be most affected by Brexit, such as financial services, real estate and manufacturing.

Given how important it is to get the legal aspects of redundancies correct, businesses tend to focus their energy and management time on the staff who are departing. However, it’s equally important to consider those who remain, as the business will need a stable, committed workforce to survive economic turmoil.

There are a number of practical tips employers can follow for minimising disruption and maintaining staff buy-in when changes have to be made.

Communicate changes

It’s vital to build in a strategy for communicating changes to the wider workforce as well as those placed at risk of redundancy. This needs to be handled carefully and sensitively to avoid jeopardising the fairness of the redundancy process (particularly if collective redundancy consultation obligations apply; undercutting the consultation process could lead to expensive protective awards in an employment tribunal). But leaving the rest of the business completely in the dark while a redundancy process is ongoing may simply fuel the rumour mill and encourage staff to look elsewhere for work. Brief, clear messages to staff that do not undermine the business’ legal obligations may help reduce uncertainty and keep staff focused on their work.

Share the pain

Reducing staff numbers while not cutting back on other business costs may damage employee relations. Staff who feel redundancies are a first port of call for the business rather than a last resort may be tempted to look elsewhere. Retaining even modest management perks may undermine the message that everyone is in it together. And cutting back on discretionary spending is crucial: organisations might be tempted to hold a staff party to improve morale, but it might equally create resentment. Taking visible steps to share the pain across the organisation makes it more likely that the staff the business still needs will remain motivated and stay the course.

Treat leavers well

Don’t assume that when staff leave the organisation their colleagues forget about them. Businesses that get a reputation for treating staff badly during redundancy rounds often find it more difficult to keep existing staff. It is important to treat departing staff fairly and with dignity. If the business is not in a position to enhance redundancy payments on an ex gratia basis (in other words, money paid when there is no legal obligation to pay it) in addition to meeting employees’ legal entitlements to redundancy pay and time off to look for another job, providing practical support – for example, help with CVs – helps to reassure the remaining staff that they are working for a fair employer.

Don’t forget workloads

After redundancies are made, the remaining staff may have higher workloads and managers may have fewer resources. If employees’ roles or responsibilities have been affected by a restructuring, it’s sensible for their line managers to have regular discussions with them to monitor their workload and discuss any necessary support. There may be no simple solutions, but overwork can negatively affect productivity and, at its worst, lead to time off for ill health and potential claims against the employer. Staff who feel overloaded are unlikely to stay with the business long term if they can find another job.

Engage staff in decision making

Working for a business that is making redundancies can be very disempowering. Staff may be more engaged if they feel they have input into the organisation’s strategy and direction rather than just feeling that the organisation only complies with its minimum legal obligations. Setting up a staff forum can be one way of accomplishing this and may yield some useful ideas for the business as well as enabling management to keep an ear to the ground and monitor morale.


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