When we came back from the Christmas holidays, we received an email from management regretfully announcing that they were kicking off a consultation period that would lead to up to 400 people being made redundant around the UK.

In the UK, there is a rather odd law that any time 20-99 people are to be fired, there is a 30 day ‘consultation period’ during which the company must ‘consult’ with employee representatives. When 100 or more people are to be fired, the consultation period is 90 days. Our 90 days ends on March 16. The tension (and black humour) is building up, as people wait for dismissal notices.

Because the consultation period is so long, it is sensible for the company to set an overly high limit to the number of redundancies they will make. They don’t want to start another round of consultation, should they find that they’ve set the limit too low. There is a balancing act between setting the limit high enough to give the company room to move, but not so high that it panics and demoralises everyone.

Many people have remarked to me that the 90 days for consultation is too long to be left hanging. Hearts pound quicker when an email arrives without a subject line. People view suspiciously meetings between upper management people, and upper management and HR. Some people I know had planned to go on holiday in April, May or June but are reluctant to book tickets and accommodation in case they find out on March 16 that they need all their savings to get through unemployment.

Yet, 90 days is better than 8 hours. I took part in our company’s the first sustainable construction materials conference. Invitations for the conference were sent to offices in the UK, mainland Europe, Australia and the US. For two days, specialists in America and the UK were to present to a a worldwide teleconference. However, two days before the conference, all the American presentations were cancelled without explanation. My Outlook invitations suddenly had big red crosses on them.

The conference went on without the Americas and it was there that I heard what had happened. In the US, people showed up to work and found dismissal emails in their inbox. They had to leave the office by the end of the day.

Losing 15% of staff was so devastating and the need to cut costs were such that US management withdrew participation from the conference. I don’t know if the presenters themselves had been axed. In Australia, too, about 10% of staff have been ‘released’.

There are many ways to handle redundancies badly and here is one of them. I will write about some stories that were shared in the aftermath of this news from the US. Some of them were so horrible that they were funny.

I will say that our company is more cuddly than most, being employee owned and sustainability focused. Many people have commented that the way the American redundancies were handled was uncharacteristically cruel.


  1. Rohan says:

    We’re being offered “voluntary redundancies” organization-wide at the moment. No-one seems particularly stressed but no-one seems inclined to accept the offer either, so it seems to me involuntary redundancies are the next step.

    One of my coworkers said that he found out he lost a previous job by reading a newspaper(!)

  2. joanium says:

    I asked about voluntary redundancies and I’m told they’re generally a bad idea for companies. I hadn’t thought about it before but the people who take voluntary redundancies are generally the most marketable people — those with more experience and skills who know they can get a job easily somewhere else. Those are the ones you want to keep!

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