Navigating Organisational Change and Redundancies

Welcome to part two of our Leading Through Change series, where we delve into the multifaceted impact of organisational restructuring. From understanding the dynamics of change to guiding managers through difficult conversations about career transitions and redundancies, we explore how proactive leadership can support employees to navigate career shifts and foster a positive work culture.

Navigating organisational change and redundancies presents one of the most challenging aspects a manager might face. Involuntary career change is commonly viewed as a negative experience, frequently triggering a wide array of emotions and reactions. Often, these conversations are not only emotionally charged but can also have a lasting impact on employees long after their departure. Thus, it is crucial to approach them with a careful balance of empathy and professionalism. In this guide, we will explore effective strategies for both preparing for and navigating these challenging discussions with compassion and competence.

Preparing for the Conversation

Before engaging in difficult conversations, it’s important to be prepared. This will help level your nerves, enabling you to adopt a professional and considered approach. During your preparation, it’s important to consider factors such as:

* Delivering a clear, consistent message

* Explaining the business rationale for changes with transparency

* How you may address potential questions or concerns

* Avoiding scripted responses to maintain genuine dialogue and active listening

* How you may foster a safe and supportive environment

* Where and how you may deliver the news, depending on the person’s preferences  (i.e., in person or online)

Delivering the News

Whilst there’s many ways to approach this conversation, it’s important to begin by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation and expressing empathy for the individual. Further, it’s also necessary to clearly communicate the decision, providing as much information as possible while respecting confidentiality and privacy concerns. Given the potential impact of involuntary career changes, it is crucial that these conversations are approached with sensitivity.

This can be achieved by:

* Recognising the significant impact of career transitions on personal lives; prioritise well-being and stability in discussions.

* Being attentive and providing employees with space to express emotions and seek clarifications.

* Offering sincere reassurances to maintain trust and credibility

* Acknowledging emotions with genuine empathy and understanding.

* Handling conversations with the dignity and respect you would wish for yourself, remembering you are dealing with someone’s future

Handling Upset or Angry People

Difficult conversations about career transitions and redundancies can elicit strong emotions, including anger, frustration, and sadness. As a manager, it’s essential to remain calm, composed, and empathetic in the face of these reactions. Further, clear validation and acknowledgment of the individual’s experience is likely to demonstrate your empathy and understanding.

In the wake of a decision that negatively affects an employee, it is possible they will make harsh judgments about the fairness or equity of procedures, no matter what the reality is.[1] In some cases, an employees’ behaviour towards those breaking the news can become uncharacteristic and hostile. It’s important to remember the gravity of being made redundant, to not take their response personally, and to engage in de-escalation techniques if required. Some helpful tactics include:

* Refrain from becoming defensive or argumentative to prevent exacerbating conflict.

* Focus on identifying common ground and seeking solutions or support for the individual’s concerns.

* Set clear boundaries to avoid overstepping limits and know when to seek support or step back.

* Reserve the right to disengage from discussions that become too overwhelming or emotionally charged.

If you’re concerned about an employee’s wellbeing, its important to provide them with adequate support. Knowing where your boundaries end, you may want to engage a professional such as the organisation’s EAP provider or suggest their family General Practitioner. Before engaging in these conversations, ensure you have a clear escalation protocol to keep everyone safe.

Managing Yourself

Finally, it’s important for managers to be mindful of their own emotions during these times. Delivering “bad news” can be an emotionally challenging process and may trigger feelings of discomfort, guilt, or sadness.

To effectively manage your emotional well-being before engaging in these challenging conversations, take time to reflect on what you need to navigate through them. Incorporate self-care techniques into your routine, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or other activities to help regulate your emotions and alleviate stress. Should you find yourself struggling to cope with the emotional toll of these discussions, seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or utilise resources like EAP. Remember, prioritising your own mental and emotional health is essential to effectively supporting others.

Successfully managing difficult conversations about career transitions and redundancies hinges on the application of empathy, transparency, and emotional intelligence. By adopting these strategies, managers can effectively provide their team members with the support and compassion needed during challenging periods. Understanding the impact of these changes and approaching them with sensitivity can contribute to cultivating a more supportive and caring work environment.

Once you’ve conquered the difficult conversation, the real work starts. In our final article, we discuss some practical mechanisms to support employees in their career transition and some quick wins to keep everyone engaged.


[1] Menzies, D. (2013). Redundancy: How to Make the Most of a Difficult Situation-An Employer and Employee’s Perspective. Austl. L. Libr., 21, 38.