Sorry, but you’re uninvited to the party

I really feel for those couples who planned to get married this year, probably several months, if not years, ago when the coronavirus didn’t exist, and they had visions of celebrating their special day surrounded by friends and family.  The rules have changed several times over the last few months, from weddings having to be postponed due to lockdown, then rearranged to accommodate 30 guests and now being told they can only have 15.  I mean, how do you even start choosing who should be there and who you have to uninvite to the party?  Surely the decision has to be led by the heart in this situation?

Imagine then that you have 30 employees, each with differing lengths of service, skills and personalities, but you only have enough work for half of them.  You’ve agonised over how jobs can be saved but you’ve done the maths and it’s just not sustainable to retain everyone without putting the whole business at risk.

So, how do you go about choosing who should stay and who should be uninvited?  Although it’s extremely difficult, you have to be led by your head in this situation.  As unfeeling as it sounds, the purpose of any redundancy process is to reduce headcount, save costs and future proof the company by retaining key skills and experience to be able to drive the business forward.

Some decisions may be easier to reach than others, in that you might have a stand-alone role which just isn’t required anymore.  For example, you’ve decided to close your office and operate completely online, meaning that you no longer have a job for your Receptionist.  Unless you’re able to move the employee into a different role in order to use their skills in another part of the business, it absolutely makes sense to place their position at risk of redundancy and it somehow feels less personal against the individual because the role simply no longer exists.

It becomes trickier when you have a group of workers who carry out the same job, and you need to reduce the number of people employed in that role.  Again, it may be possible to move one or some of them to another position but, if this isn’t an option, we’re then having to choose who will be retained and who will be let go, which starts to feel a little more personal.

Of course, you probably already know who you absolutely want to retain but, remember, we’re future proofing the business and need to keep those who can best help drive it forward.

So, it’s crucial that your decision making is based on a set of selection criteria which will help identify those employees who can best contribute to your future business objectives.

Obvious criteria include skills, experience and performance – hopefully these can be objectively evidenced by training records, qualifications and performance review/one-to-one meeting notes.  You should also think about including absence records and live disciplinary warnings if attendance and behaviour have been particular issues within your organisation.

Although we should try to make selection criteria as objective as possible to avoid potential claims of discrimination, harassment or victimisation, it is possible to include things such as flexibility, initiative or the ability to form positive working relationships if they’re important to the needs of the business going forward.  However, care needs to be taken when scoring these criteria, and the manager holding the consultation meetings should be able to provide examples of why they may have given the employee a low score.  It’s too late during a redundancy selection process to point out to someone for the first time that their lack of flexibility is a problem.  It’s exactly for reasons such as this that us HR folk are always harping on about addressing any concerns without delay and making a note of any conversations that take place with the employee.

Although it’s never easy to tell someone that they’ve been selected for redundancy and “uninvited from the party”, it will feel a lot less personal if you’ve been able to score them against a robust set of criteria and have the evidence to back up your decision.  If you’ve done your prep work and have scored as fairly and transparently as possible, you can be comforted by the fact that you’ve chosen the right people to keep in the business.

Despite what some people may think about employers, I haven’t yet met one who hasn’t had sleepless nights about having to make redundancies.  Are you struggling to sleep, not knowing how to choose who should stay and who should go?  If you need support with working through this difficult process, please get in touch to arrange a conversation with one of our HR specialists.

Jayne Dunn, Managing Director


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