Redundancy grief – five emotional stages employees go through & how employers can help

All too frequently, big name companies are making redundancies due to the impact of COVID-19 and it’s likely to continue over the coming months.

Making redundancies is not easy for employers, but for employees, it’s comparable to the five stages of grief, according to a redundancy expert.

Ben Roberts is an employment expert at Renovo, the leading specialist provider of career transition support. He says that understanding this can help employer and employees. “Employers who understand the basics of the Kubler-Ross change curve model, which comprises denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, can help an employee’s emotional wellbeing so they accept the situation and progress, which is positive for both parties.

“Having been made redundant in the past I can speak from experience about the effect it has. Aside from the practical worries about finances and starting a new job search, it takes a toll on your mental and physical health, affecting self-worth and confidence. I believe that the Kubler-Ross model applies to how an individual processes grief if going through redundancy.

“Employers and line managers who know this can use it in a practical way to help support the employees”.

The five stages of redundancy grief – and how employers can help – are:

Stage 1- Denial

Employee reaction: The ‘This can’t be happening to me’ mindset is often the initial stage of the grieving process. After the shock of the news, it is common for people to bury their heads in the sand and hope the situation will blow over. The individual’s focus will be on the past and they may continue with ‘business as usual’ in the hope that it will ultimately not affect them. This can be for a multitude of reasons such as a lack of information, a fear of the unknown or a fear of looking like they have failed or let down colleagues or family members.

Employer guidance: It’s important to understand that your employee needs time to accept that their role is ending before any new information can be processed productively. At this early stage, make sure you are open to acknowledging the emotions that people are experiencing and retain an ‘open door’ policy for questions. If you are seen as unapproachable at this time, you may likely encounter resistance throughout the whole process.

Stage 2- Frustration/Anger

Employee reaction: Once the reality of the situation has settled in, the impact that this has on the individual can turn to anger. It is not uncommon for individuals to become angry at those around them at this time, whether towards a manager or colleagues that are not going through consultation, or towards the business for what they perceive is poor planning or a lack of care.

Employer guidance: Accept that employees will naturally be resistant to the news. As the person who relayed the message, you may not be the person they want to open up to. Do not try to second-guess their exact emotions; rather, give them time and make sure there that when you are able to talk with them that you listen empathetically and communicate openly about what’s going to happen.

Stage 3-Bargaining

Employee reaction: Bargaining is used as a delay tactic to put off the change or try to find a solution that is generally unrealistic; this might include promising unrealistic changes, compromises or output, or even making offers of extreme lifestyle change. This is often accompanied by feelings of guilt that rise as the individual starts to question what they could have done differently.

Employer guidance: You can best support employees at this time by managing their expectations whilst reiterating that the redundancy is not personal – it is their role being made redundant, not them. Advise them on how they can use their skill and experience once they have moved on. Explain how you can help support them with what they need including training or specialist outplacement services to move on effectively into a new role.

Stage 4- Depression

Employee reaction: When the reality of the situation sets in, individuals may feel despair, grief and intense sadness, perhaps appearing withdrawn with the sense of loss.

Employer guidance: Grief is part of the process of healing from loss, so don’t immediately think that this needs to be fixed as soon as possible – it’s a necessary step. People will have different ways of dealing with depression, so it’s important to be as open-minded and understanding to their needs. People will be unsure of what comes next, and so the more you can support them practically as well as emotionally and communicate how their knowledge and skills are an essential part of getting there, the likelier they are to move on to the next stage.

Stage 5- Acceptance

Employee reaction: Acceptance is when the individual accepts the situation is real and that they will need to take action. This does not necessarily mean that are OK or happy with the situation they are in.

Employer guidance: Your support doesn’t end here – ongoing emotional support may be needed to help your employee come to terms with their redundancy, particularly if they have been with the business or in a role for a long time. If you have kept an open dialogue with your employee throughout the change process, you will be in the best position to offer them the most effective support for their own particular situation.

Endnote

Don’t forget that whatever size project, workforce change will affect more than the individuals directly made redundant. Ensure you communicate effectively throughout the organisation, as employees who remain are likely to be affected by workload changes or the loss of their colleagues as well.

About the author

Ben Roberts is an Account Manager for Renovo – the UK’s leading Career Transition and Outplacement Specialists. Based at Renovo’s London office, Ben is an employment expert with vast workforce change and recruitment experience.

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