The culture of making someone redundant has changed so much because of the fear of litigation that workers are leaving crushed, according to cognitive psychologist and business neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw.
Shaw argues it is not the actual redundancy that is the problem, but a stripping of dignity and the destruction of self-esteem during the delivery of redundancy news that has developed in recent years.
She says, ‘Employees are not stupid and usually reluctantly accept redundancy has to happen. The difference is previously we used to be given a fairly substantial pay off which went hand in hand with the news being broken gently, with an aim at preserving integrity and self-esteem and often some help to find something else fitting.
‘We were more often than not told that it wasn’t personal and that company circumstances had changed and the job is no longer available, and our achievements were listed along with any performance issues.’
These days employers fear litigation so much that businesses increasingly present lists of their failures to the employee, perhaps make them re-interview for their own job and focus only on negatives to justify the decision, Shaw explains.
Today redundancy is increasingly a common career event that many of us will experience at some stage but with an aim to reduce litigation, redundant employees are left with feelings of failure and inadequacy, she adds.
Shaw continues that neuroimaging studies show that the emotional pain of rejection activates the same areas in the brain as physical pain.
‘In fact, we are hardwired to live in the safety of our social tribe, so the emotional pain of rejection is extremely strong and can negatively affect our ability to make good decisions and think clearly.
‘Not only do we face a potential income crisis with redundancy but we can also potentially lose our sense of identity and structure which means that delivery of the redundancy is crucial. Even the traditional family dynamic may change with partners having to step up to earn more money and the family may have to face numerous hard decisions.’
And to the employer making the redundancy decision? ‘Consider that your delivery of bad news has the potential to make or break someone. Give that employee the chance for it to be the making of them. It may be harder to offer a great package these days but it no harder to offer compassion.’
Further reading on redundancy