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Don't blame the messenger: Supporting the bearers of bad news during redundancies

Downsizing or restructuring can be a challenge at all levels of an organisation. Redundancy handling, a new advice booklet from Acas, gives wide-ranging guidance for employers, trade unions and employee representatives on how best to deal with redundancies. 

One section highlights the crucial, but often overlooked role of the people whose task it is to break the bad news to colleagues about job losses. These people, called 'tellers' in the booklet, can make all the difference in how employees cope with redundancy as well as providing support and motivation for those who stay on.

Employers need to be sensitive when choosing who should be a teller, research suggests. Close colleagues of employees at risk may understand the background well and have a genuine desire to find the best outcomes. However, it's the same people who are likely to experience the greatest distress when breaking bad news. A teller with more emotional distance, for example, an independent consultant, could be better placed to be messenger and intermediary.

The role of the teller can last for many months and demand long and stressful meetings with angry, upset and shocked employees. When surveyed, many reported that being a teller was the most demanding thing they had done in their working lives. It's vital, therefore, that tellers are adequately prepared for the potential psychological impacts of their task, and appropriately supported by their employers throughout the process.

Redundancy handling is one of several advice booklets surrounding issues commonly faced during redundancies, including the Employee communications and consultation, Challenging conversations and how to manage them  and Advisory booklet - How to manage change.

Acas also runs courses to give managers and employment relations specialists skills needed in organisations facing redundancies, such as Redundancy and restructuring, Having difficult conversations and Managing change.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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