HR professionals working in local government in NSW face some tough times as mass redundancies seem a real possibility in the light of boundary changes proposed by Premier Mike Baird.
Baird has made clear that forced local council amalgamations are likely as a third of them in the state are struggling financially. In these situations, HR departments will need to provide guidance and support to managers who have to convey bad news and also ensure that organisations remain stable during the restructuring that will inevitably follow.
The current review, Fit for the Future, has encountered strong resistance from several councils who have been targeted for merger, with vigorous local campaigns set up to get residents to speak out against the proposals.
Meanwhile, the state government has pledged up to $258 million to assist councils who decide to merge and implement reforms to address financial sustainability, efficiency, services, infrastructure and governance.
But as the rhetoric around amalgamations intensifies, HR practitioners inevitably have to consider how redundancies should be handled.
Marie O’Connell, executive manager of human resources at Maitland City Council, who has extensive experience in industrial relations both in the private and public sectors, says that HR professionals need to be prepared to manage their own and other senior executives emotional response.
“The experience of redundancies can be difficult. The first thing is you need to remain calm. You are the one who the CEO looks to, to provide stability and support. You will always have a framework when you are going through a significant IR process, but it is what is wrapped around that.”
Dealing with large-scale redundancy programs in the past, O’Connell says that although managers are professional in their own area, it’s HR that provides the expertise in people.
“Getting managers in the right head space in terms of the myriad emotions that are going around – HR is the common denominator. HR is the constant. I was sitting in on every meeting to ensure that consistency was there in every approach.”
Here are five things HR practitioners should consider when handling redundancies at work:
- Provide clear and concise communication and leadership throughout the redundancy process. Explain clearly how amalgamation is going to ensure the future security of the organisation so that employees understand the need for changes. Outline the timescale for the changes to happen which will help alleviate anxiety.
- Continue communicating after downsizing as the restructuring exercise will mean remaining employees will feel unsettled and demotivated if they are shouldering additional or changing workloads.
- Allow for emotional responses to be expressed. Don’t talk about your own emotions. It’s not about you, it’s about the employee. Train managers to understand and interpret non-verbal language and ensure they are open and responsive to staff grievances.
- Set up outplacement services for employees who are leaving the organisation that include counselling and support through employee assistance program.
- Remain highly visible to staff. Be approachable and honest and involve remaining employees in planning how the organisation moves forward and how work is going to be carried out in the future.