Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t? - Making Tough Leadership Decisions in an Ethical Way
Thursday 4th June 2020
We’re not even halfway through 2020 yet and organisations of all shapes and sizes are having to cope with huge amounts of uncertainty. Whether that’s the long term impact of the Coronavirus, what comes next after the Brexit transition phase, or even the fast-moving age of automation. Leaders at home and abroad will be considering how best to safeguard for the future and protect their brand. For many, this will involve tough decisions on potentially reducing the size of their workforce. When faced with this challenge, how can leaders make these tough decisions in an ethical way?
The Covid-19 crisis has forced organisations’ leaders to rapidly change their operating models, as they have to adapt to survive. Decisions which may have previously dragged on for months, if not years, such as remote working and new systems, have almost been required to be implemented overnight. These changes have included rapid and significant investment in new technology, and while this investment allows organisations to operate at some level of normality, most acknowledge that it’s not perfect, yet is the only way forward. It is amazing how quickly organisations can react when they need to. I’m not advocating that we should make such big decisions and take a similar approach in the same way as we do when in crisis in normal times, but we all have to admit, when the chips are down, change can happen quickly and people can adapt.
One of the things I have been most impressed with is how call centres have responded. For many years I have encouraged leaders to think differently about the way they operate their call centres. I have been urging them to adopt a more flexible workforce model and consider remote working, which many thought was impossible. Yet, in the last ten weeks, I have watched in amazement at how when there is no other choice, these organisations have managed to move their huge call centres, often with thousands of employees, into satellite offices (homes) across the country, in record speed. This is a far cry from ten years ago when organisations were moving their call centres outside of the UK in a bid to save costs. Whilst I appreciate that levels of customer service may not have been quite as good as they should be, and that the current model is probably not a long term solution, I must take my hat off to everyone involved in these transitions, for the bravery and bold leadership that came through and prevailed during these tough times.
As we now start to look at the exit strategy from this crisis, many organisations have already made the tough decisions to reduce the size of their workforce in a bid to kick start their recovery. Unfortunately, I imagine many more will follow too. However, before these decisions are made, I would encourage leaders to think hard before acting, and continue to show the bravery and bold leadership of recent weeks.
To leaders thinking of reducing their workforce, I would say this:
As you consider the cost and long term consequences of this crisis, and before you return to business as usual, take the time to reflect on what has worked well during the crisis
Consider whether you still need big, city-centre locations to operate?
Could you continue to make use of technology to utilise remote working and flexibility?
“Your people are more valuable than your buildings”
In essence, my message would be your people are more valuable than your buildings. When considering the road to recovery and cutting costs, consider making remote working the ‘new normal’, which will allow you to reduce your office space and potentially save the jobs of your teams.
Before this crisis occurred, the world was already changing. Customers were becoming more demanding for convenience and business leaders were having to constantly review the balance between technology and people in an effort to manage costs, whilst adapting to a faster paced and ever-changing customer demand.
Banks are a prime example of this:
In recent years, new starter banks have created a whole new online industry
Traditional high street banks are having to respond quickly by investing and leveraging technology to respond to this competition - all whilst trying to manage costs and retaining their traditional customer base
We can now pay cheques into our account from the comfort of our sofa and without having to go into a branch - a great convenience for some, although this has not been welcomed by all
It has been widely reported that the result of such investment in remote technology has meant demand for ‘in branch’ transactions is much lower and as a result, leaders are faced with the tough decision to close their branches and make cuts to their workforce
It’s almost as if these business leaders are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
When these tough decisions are made, the impact on employees (and communities) can be devastating. This is particularly challenging for long-serving and older employees, who have worked for their employers for a long time and have little or no experience of job searching or attending interviews in today’s market. This impact is compounded further when the employee has a protected characteristic such as a disability, and these employees may often consider the organisation and their colleagues as part of their family unit, rather than just as an income provider. When these personal stories are reported on by the news, it is usually the leaders and their organisations’ reputations that come under fire.
There is a solution!
Truly inclusive leaders, who want to protect both their employees and their reputation will seek to ensure that, even when exiting their organisation, employees do so in the most positive way possible. They will recognise that an employee’s exit is as just an important part of the employee lifecycle as their induction, and that it should be treated with the same care. It is those leaders who will budget for and invest in outplacement support as part of any redundancy decision.
Even in difficult times you can still do the right thing by your people and their communities. With outplacement support packages starting from as little as £250 per person, it is often more affordable than expected.
There are many benefits to outplacement support including:
Protecting the organisation’s brand
Maintaining your culture and values - even in difficult times
Ensuring retained employee’s morale is maintained and focused on the job in hand
Outplacement support will help those employees exiting the organisation to look for new work opportunities, support them with re-training for a new role, or simply assisting them with writing their CV and helping them prepare for interviews. All of this will give them the best possible chance of success in the future.
EA has been working with global organisations and providing outplacement support for over 20 years. Here is some of what we have learnt about outplacement support:
It works best when employees feel their employer has invested in helping them
It can (and should) be tailored and personalised by company and individual to ensure the best impact – A ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work
Tailored outplacement support comes with a range of options including face to face or virtual sessions using multiple techniques including personalised transition handbooks and coaching through every step of the journey
It protects your positive brand from exiting employees
It increases the speed that employees finding new employment
It should be holistic and include employment, wellbeing, financial and even new business start-up support
It makes future recruitment more positive as an employer of choice
Fixed fee programmes allow businesses to budget outplacement support alongside redundancy and reorganisation costs
The need for bespoke support for those people who have protected characteristics is paramount - Research shows that these people have a much harder time at re-entering the job market
Did You Know
According to ONS figures, 6.7% (300,000) of working-age people with disabilities were unemployed in September 2019, compared with just 3.7% of those without disabilities - Parliamentary Briefing, Jan 2020
The overall UK unemployment rate in Jan-March 2020 was 3.9% (ONS), yet the rate was 3.6% for people from a White background, compared to 6.3% for people from BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds - Parliamentary Briefing, June 2020
Almost one in five LGBT people (18%) who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job - Stonewall LGBT in Work Report 2018
These statistics evidence that there is a very real need for additional support to help people find alternative work following a change to their existing positions, and employers have a responsibility to take steps to support them to achieve this.
With 20 years of experience of providing outplacement support, EA Inclusion stands ready to support Britain’s recovery. Our global clients can testify that our outplacement support service, coupled with our experience as experts in equality and inclusive recruitment, has meant that they were secure in the knowledge that we supported their employees to continue to evolve and grow outside of their organisation.
Our portfolio of options means that we offer tailored and bespoke packages to meet your needs. By undertaking an outplacement programme, your organisation can demonstrate that it takes an ethical approach to making tough decisions.
Our outplacement programmes range from £250 to £5,000 per person.
- Craig Richards, Managing Director at EA Inclusion