Many organisations are currently having to unexpectedly and rapidly ‘let people go’. The organisational processes involve range from early retirement via voluntary redundancy to compulsory redundancy; and accordingly the emotions involved may vary from joy at an unexpected windfall to shock, anger and fear.
How can an organisation let people go appreciatively?
At first glance celebrating the departure of someone who had no intention of leaving, or retiring right now, seems a tad insensitive, and so the temptation is to play down the event and hope they go quietly.
However research and experience suggests you will be doing them, and yourself, much more of a favour if you can find a way to help them celebrate their time at your organisation.
By helping them to let go of the past, say their good-byes and express both their appreciation of times past, and sorrow at present circumstances, you are putting them in a much better position to move forward to the next stage of their life. You will also be doing yourself a favour if you are able to acknowledge the pain and regret these financially necessary actions are causing you. To acknowledge that you are not an inhuman organisational machine, that you have fellow feeling with those upon whom the axe has fallen, enhances rather than diminishes your leadership.
What can you do?
- In a public place create a talking wall of the achievements of those who are leaving. The technology can range from video clips or interviews with colleagues, to flip-chart paper and post it notes. Depending on your industry and their specialism you might include accounts won, innovations developed, sporting teams led, social relationships fostered, talent nurtured and so on. Invite people to add their own messages of sorrow, support, and reminiscence.
- Be sure to honour their leaving with an event, a ceremony with some ritual. Think of an appropriate model: this is your life, a degree ceremony, a passing-out parade, a party, an apprenticeship completion. Make sure friends and colleagues can be there, maybe invite family.
- At the ceremony be sure to have someone honour each departing individual. Someone who can speak with genuine appreciation of what they have brought to the organisation. This might well be a work-mate rather than senior management. Someone who can say from a state of knowledge how sorry they are to see this person go.
- Organise practical support, whether its ‘how to adjust to retirement’, to ‘how to work your network’. Find out what help people need to start the next phase of their life and make it easy for them to access that help. Include other family members if it’s wanted.
- Negotiate individual leaving packages that meet their needs e.g. some might want to keep the car for a month to help with appearances and confidence at interviews, while others, keen to launch their business idea or take up their hobby might want everything converted to cash.
And for yourself?
- Be crystal clear why the organisation is having to let people go.
- Remember that just because you are having to do something someone might be experiencing as a bad thing doesn’t make you a bad person. You are not the sole architect of their fate.
- Don’t avoid people; seek them out so you can tell them personally how sorry you are that it has come to this.
- If appropriate let them know that you personally are happy to write them letters of recommendation and that when things pick up you would be very happy to offer them employment if they are still around, but sadly, for now, to save the company for the future, you have had to make some very hard decisions.