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Is This Redundancy or Just ‘Failure to Manage’?



redundancy, retrenchment, termination, unfair dismissal, adverse actionEditors Note: This is a guest post written by Sam Baker, a cofounder of The People Department. Her opinions are her own.

Admit it. You’ve been there, or you’ve at least seen it happen around you. A poor-performing team member. A difficult conversation glossed over. And now a need to make a change; and fast.

A quick chat to HR and some uncomfortable questions follow, like, any chance you’ve told them they’re not performing? And what they might do to turn it around? Or that they might lose their job?

(Ahh, not really).

And did you happen to make some notes?

(Um, not as such).

Mere technicalities in the minds of some managers who think they have the magic antidote to anyone not performing, or maybe just not fitting in. It’s called, ‘let’s make the job redundant’.

Why does redundancy happen?

We are asked to advise on this type of situation regularly and think it’s borne mainly of two things:

  • an unwillingness to have constructive conversations about poor performance and behaviour; and
  • insufficient time spent on recruitment

Are you really that busy or do you just struggle to find a way of telling someone they’re not doing what you need or expect?

Did you really think enough about what type of person and experience you needed to do this job before you went looking?

It’s understandable that this happens given the constraints on many businesses but we see this approach as a false economy.

What exactly is redundancy?

A true redundancy occurs when there is no longer a need for a certain type of work or as much of that work as there was before.

It’s about the job or the type of work; not about an individual.

There are generally procedural requirements that you need to meet when selecting individuals for redundancy and communicating it to them. These vary from industry to industry and level of role but they exist nonetheless.

Why it’s not such a hot idea

  1. It’s grossly unfair (in most cases) – they don’t have a chance to change and improve if you won’t clearly tell them what you want and then tell them if they’re not doing it!
  2. Unfair Dismissal – an eligible employee who believes their redundancy wasn’t genuine can still claim Unfair Dismissal and will increasingly find a way to turn this into an ‘Adverse Action’ claim to up their likely payout.
  3. It’ll cost – even if it doesn’t end up in a tribunal, the cost of paying a redundancy is generally higher than a properly-managed termination. Add up the Redundancy + Go Away Money + Recruiting and training a replacement and why wouldn’t you manage their performance in the first place?
  4. You’re sending a message to your team – and it’s one you can’t control. Whatever spin you put on it, with some of your team you’re planting the seed of, ‘I can get paid to leave if I play my cards right’. You’re also frustrating other great team members who think, ‘Why do I work hard and they pay people like that to go away?’
  5. You’re making it someone else’s problem – you know how you love it when a new hire starts alarm bells ringing and a bit more digging into their employment history shows they’ve been ‘made redundant’ or ‘it was a mutual decision to leave’ their last four jobs. If you’ve done this when you should’ve managed the problem, it’s workplace karma at play. Sorry about that.

What’s the alternative?

It might seem obvious but it takes strong people managers to build and lead effective teams. You need a clear set of values and robust performance management practices (note I didn’t say ‘complicated’) that are based on fairness, transparency and accountability for all. You need to measure the performance of your managers based on their ability to manage people.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy. It takes commitment and consistency. But it can be done and done well.

You’ll know when you’re doing it right because these places are a joy to work in, work for and be associated with.

We think it’s worth the effort.


Please note that the information in this post does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. The People Department does not accept liability for any loss or damage that may arise from any such reliance.

Sam Baker is one of the cofounders at  The People Department – a boutique Human Resources consultancy. With qualifications in HR, Business, Employment Relations and Training & Assessment her HR experience includes the nuts and bolts of managing day-to-day HR operations and performance issues. It also encompasses national enterprise agreements, regional reward and recognition programs, national training programs, large-scale re-structures, M&A and change management initiatives.