Coronavirus: How employers can support people through the five stages of redundancy grief

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Letting people go is not easy for employers, but for employees, it may be comparable with the five stages of grief. (Getty)
Letting people go is not easy for employers, but for employees, it may be comparable with the five stages of grief. (Getty)

Millions of UK workers have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and many more could face redundancy over the coming months.

Last week claims for universal credit hit 2.5 million. Universal credit is now the main benefit for the newly unemployed, suggesting a steep rise in unemployment as firms have axed staff and many self-employed workers have seen their incomes evaporate.

Letting people go is not easy for employers, but for employees, it may be comparable with the five stages of grief, according to a career expert who has been made redundant in the past.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What to do if you think you might be laid off

Understanding the five stages of grief can help people through the redundancy process, says Ben Roberts, an employment expert at Renovo, the UK’s leading provider of career transition support. For employers, awareness of these stages can also help to support people through the redundancy process.

“There is a change curve model for grief, called Kubler-Ross, which comprises denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I believe that understanding a likely emotional pattern of losing a job can help people accept their situation and move ahead more quickly,” says Roberts.

So, what are the five stages of redundancy grief and how can employers offer support?

Denial

Disbelief and the feeling of “this can’t be happening to me” is often the first stage of the grieving process. After the shock of the news, people often tend to bury their heads in the sand and hope they won’t have to face the situation.

READ MORE: Can you be forced to return to work? Your rights as a furloughed worker

Lack of information, a fear of the unknown or a fear of looking like they have failed or let down colleagues or family members can contribute to this feeling of denial and people may continue with a “business as usual” attitude in the hope that things will just blow over.

For employers, it is important to understand that people need time to accept that their role is ending before any new information can be processed productively.

At this early stage, employers should ensure they are open to acknowledging the emotions that people are going through and remain approachable, keeping an “open door’”policy for questions.

Anger

As the reality of the situation sinks in, the impact can turn to anger or frustration. People can become angry at those around them at this time, whether towards a manager or colleagues that are not going through the redundancy process, or towards the business for what they may feel is a lack of care, poor planning or unfairness.

READ MORE: Why ‘meaningful’ work is going to become more important post-coronavirus

Employers should be understanding and accept that workers will naturally be resistant to the news. While remaining open for communication, do not try to second-guess their emotions. Give them time and make sure that when you are able to talk with them that you listen empathetically and communicate openly about what's going to happen.

Bargaining

Bargaining is often used as a way of trying to reverse the decision or attempting to find a solution that is generally unrealistic. For example, people might promise unrealistic changes, compromises or output, or even make offers of extreme lifestyle change.

This stage is often accompanied by feelings of guilt that come up as people start to question what they could have done differently.  

Employers can support people at this time by managing their expectations while reiterating that the redundancy is not personal — it is their role being made redundant, not them.

READ MORE: What to say and what not to say to someone who has lost their job

Employers can advise employees on how they can best use their skills and experience once they have moved on. Offer support in helping them move effectively into a new role with training or specialist outplacement services.

Depression   

When the reality of the situation settles in, people may feel despair, grief and intense sadness, perhaps appearing withdrawn with the sense of loss.

Employers can help by remembering that grief is part of the process of healing from loss, so this doesn’t necessarily need to be fixed as soon as possible — it is a key step in the process.

Everyone will have their own way of dealing with depression, so it’s important to be as open-minded and understanding as possible.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What to do if you think you might be laid off

People will be unsure of what comes next, and so the more employers can support them practically as well as emotionally the better. The more you communicate how their unique knowledge and skills are an essential part of moving onto the next stage of their career, the likelier they are to take the next step.

Acceptance

The final stage is when the employee accepts the situation is real and that they will need to take action. However, this does not necessarily mean that are completely fine or happy with the situation they are in. 

An employer’s support doesn’t end here — continued emotional support may be required to help people come to terms with their redundancy.

If there has been an open dialogue with an employee throughout the change process, employers will be in the best position to offer them the most effective support for their own particular situation.

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