If you have to let people go, make sure the process is compassionate and fair, says Michael Moran

While redundancies are bound to have an adverse effect on morale, motivation and productivity, you can lessen the blow by following some simple steps.

Have you considered all the alternatives to letting people go? Recruitment freezes, pay freezes, reduced overtime, flexible working, or reduced agency workers? The private sector has been taking a more flexible approach to lowering labour costs in the credit crunch - part-time roles, sabbaticals and pay cuts - to avert job losses.

Redeployment to other areas may be an option. Evaluating the skill mix across your area to meet challenges such as the use of technology and delivering care to an ageing population may present an opportunity to move resources around. Undertaking career management work by evaluating the skills, values and aspirations of your staff may enable them to cross into other roles across your region.

Bear in mind the cost of your investment in hiring, development and training, as redundancy represents a huge loss of someone you once thought good enough to hire.

Be prepared

Planning is crucial. Get your documentation right and be sure of the legal framework. As well as a fair selection process, you must arrange a period of individual consultation before implementing redundancies. This provides an early opportunity for all concerned to explore the options so communicate clearly. Train your managers to handle redundancy with sympathy and clarity. Ensure they know where to go for advice and support.

Redundancy affects the whole organisation. Those left behind are vulnerable. Identify leaders within your workforce, bring them in early and get them on side to help communicate your message. Explain the benefits and let those who remain know what is in it for them.

Get the message across

Breaking the news needs firmness, empathy and compassion. Combine formal announcements with written confirmation. Give careful consideration to the venue, timing and delivery of the announcement. Think about the mechanics of getting people in and out of meeting rooms. Handle the conversation with sensitivity. If you are too blunt, those being made redundant will be hurt, and those left behind will feel demoralised. Make your message unambiguous and never say: “I know how you feel”, since you don’t.

Deal with facts, not opinions. It is often crucial to those losing their jobs that their departure is announced in a way that does not damage their pride or reputation. How this is handled will shape perceptions of fairness among colleagues. Don’t forget isolated groups - for example, those on shifts, maintenance or community-based employees working away from base, operating largely from home or in remote locations, or part-time staff.

Provide support

Be aware of personal circumstances. Some employees will have special difficulties to contend with and, where practicable, you should consider cases of hardship and, if possible, seek ways of helping.

Outplacement career coaching can dramatically affect how individuals approach a new job or new career. People’s identities are often built around their work. Counsellors help them adjust to the upheaval in their lives. Allow staff time for interviews and retraining. A well-designed support programme reassures those whose jobs are not affected that the organisation is prepared to look after redundant employees.

Focus on the law

An employer is obliged to consider whether alternative vacancies exist within the company or the group. Even where a job might be unsuitable, it should still be suggested. Never assume employees will not work different hours, or accept a different pay structure or different work.

Consultation should begin as soon as possible and must be completed before redundancy notices are issued. During the consultation interview explain why redundancy is necessary and how the selection process works. You must be honest and absolutely clear about what is happening. Research shows we only remember one-third of what we are told in a meeting or presentation. Be prepared to explain and re-explain.