How to handle retrenchments in your office with sensitivity
Retrenchments are an agonising process for any business. They can cause upheaval in the lives of all involved, with those who lose their jobs being most seriously affected.
Keep to the letter of the law
South African labour laws dictate that business owners and managers must follow a rigorous process prior to the decision to retrench, and following the decision, if retrenchment is deemed unavoidable.
As a business owner or manager faced with the unenviable task of having to let employees go for the sake of the business, it is critically important that these procedures are followed correctly to avoid legal censure; but it is also important that the manner in which retrenchments proceed are done sensitively. An improper approach to retrenchment can hurt the morale of remaining employees, leading to unplanned exits, stunted productivity, and increasing the hardships of an already troubled business.
When it seems as if retrenchments may become a necessity, but before the decision to retrench has been made, it is your duty, as an employer, to hold formal consultations with employees. A written memo should be distributed, detailing the factors that have made retrenchments seem unavoidable.
Help old employees find new beginnings
Once the consultation process has been completed, and retrenchments confirmed, it is important to reveal the details of retrenchment with care. Ensure that those who will face retrenchment have as much information as possible – make certain that their packages are clearly explained.
Provide references to help them find new employment. In the reference letters, make certain to talk about the retrenchment so that the termination of employment does not reflect poorly on the retrenched, as may happen in the case of an employee being fired.
Life after loss
A well-handled retrenchment process, in which discontent among those made to leave is kept to a minimum, is essential if you hope to prevent lingering unhappiness in the remaining workforce. Communicating properly – being thorough in providing the rationale behind the retrenchment decision – will allow those remaining employees to be more assured in knowing why they were kept on, and prevent ‘survivor’s guilt’ from affecting their productivity.
A new direction
Retrenchment periods are moments of change in an organisation. Having to downsize a workforce is an extreme measure. With this act, an organisation must seize the opportunity to change. Remaining employees shouldn’t be made to shoulder a vastly increased work burden because those that formerly performed those duties have left. This is not only a sure-fire way to foster discontent among the remaining employees and have valuable employees seek work elsewhere, but it is an inefficient use of remaining human resources.
Rather, management should devote thought to improved systems that can allow productivity to flourish, and to get the company back on a growth path.