Compassion for Those Making People Redundant

Compassion for You

If you are leading “a round of redundancies,” my heart goes out to you. You are in the midst of one of the worst tasks for a business leader. I know it can be heartbreakingly difficult, so here is some compassion for you.

When I’ve implemented redundancies in organisations both large and small, I’ve been fortunate to receive compassion. I remember one HR practitioner telling me that it was normal to cry at some stage. Another listened to me share how hard I was finding things before we discussed the letters we needed to start. The compassion from them both helped me understand, accept and allow the unpleasant emotions, and the act of sharing was very supportive.

As things are comparatively worse for those you are making redundant, it can be hard to have self-compassion. And you DO deserve compassion, so here is a definition of compassion and three steps encouraging you to take care of yourself with some self-compassion and allow some compassion from others.

What is Compassion?

So, to start with, before the steps, let’s understand compassion.

Compassion is the daily practice of recognising and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering.

Brene Brown – Atlas of the Heart

Compassion means understanding and accepting where we are and then taking care of the human being that is suffering. It is the ability to bring relief and to remove suffering.

Compassion isn’t the desire to fix things before the suffering has been understood, acknowledged, and allowed. It also doesn’t involve statements like “at least…” such as “at least you still have a job.” Acknowledging the human being and the suffering must come first before looking at solutions.

Step 1: Understanding and Acceptance

The first step for you right now is to understand how things are. Can you give yourself permission to feel what is there, to allow the feelings, to notice how the body is?

Perhaps there is some shame that there are redundancies. Maybe you’re feeling annoyed that your job might be even harder in the future with some of your team gone. Perhaps you’re feeling some joy that a challenging person has gone, and that feels petty. You could be feeling angry that you’ve been forced to do this. Just notice and name whatever is there, without judging yourself.

And how is your body? Maybe when you stop and notice, you can feel how tired your body is, or that your brain is foggy, or that your shoulders are super tight.

Now that you know what is there, can you allow the feelings to be there without judgement? Don’t think it’s not OK to be angry, or “I shouldn’t feel sad because it’s worse for someone else.” Recognising your feelings and allowing them is a key step. This gives the emotions the space to be, to share their message with you, and to move on.

Curiosity is so useful here. Don’t assume that when you wake up tomorrow you will be feeling the same. Get curious and see, “How am I now?”

Step 2: Taking Care of the Human that’s Suffering

Feeling understood and accepted already starts to soften the suffering.

Seeking support from someone who really understands what this feels like can bring huge relief. Having good peer support is invaluable to leaders, particularly in times like this.

What else could help? Here are some more ideas:

  • Practising gratitude
  • Finding places to experience awe (hint: nature is a good place and kids are great at this)
  • Spending time with someone or a group of people who nourish you
  • Exercise or rest
  • Time outside

I remember one morning getting a nudge to spend more time outside and thinking, “Really, when can I do that?” Then I realised I could drink my morning coffee on the beach on the way to work. It took all of 10 minutes extra and was a beautiful start to the day.

See if you can find some ways to nourish and show care to yourself or find a trusted friend to help with your care. 

Step 3: Reform Your Smaller Team

Redundancies are complex emotionally. And yes, survivor’s guilt is a real thing for those who weren’t made redundant—that’s another layer for you and those in your team that remain. On top of all this you’ve also got to redistribute some of the workload and settle into a new way of working.

With a smaller team, change things so that the gaps aren’t so glaringly obvious. This could include rearranging the office, changing how/when/where you do the regular team meetings. A good social catch-up for the team can also be very supportive. Think about what would help the team come together.

And Some Hope

Here is one inspiring story from my experiences of leading redundancies. Yes, I have awful stories too, but let’s finish with a good one.

Seventeen years ago, the skills in our team didn’t match the market, so I had to let some people go. One person was scared for his future. About 18 months after the redundancies, he went out of his way to drop into the office and see me. I wasn’t expecting him, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The visit was quick, and he said:

Katrina, I just wanted to tell you how good it was that you made me redundant. I wasn’t happy doing that job, and it forced me to go into business for myself doing something quite different. It was the best thing, and I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t made me redundant.”

Yes, not all stories are as good as this, but I wanted to finish with some hope as who really knows what will happen.

What steps of compassion will you take to care for yourself?