For some time now I have been training managers to deal with difficult situations and conversations with employees, including when they are restructuring and making redundancies.  Some of the behavioural tendencies discussed during the training for these hard conversations include managers taking refuge in prevarication, jargon, management consultancy-speak and text-book phrases, or simply passing the responsibility for effective communication to HR. 

It seems that these tendencies are not limited to just HR, though the store of euphemisms for dismissal is more or less infinite.  The FT recently reported with some distaste the description of a collective redundancy exercise as the operation “being managed for value”, and the surreally appalling statement in a McKinsey McKinsey & Company | Home Page document that a particular assessment was “based on international methodology and on-ground truthing”.  What?

Such terms leave employees either bemused as to what is actually going on or enraged that their manager has made such a colossal hash of explaining it to them that the message is obscured behind a protective cordon of pseudo-intellectual waffling.  Nobody likes having such discussions and the temptation to distance oneself or de-personalise the dismissal process through buzzwords is considerable, but doing just so insults the employee, for whom the exercise is inevitably very personal indeed. 

In difficult or critical situations it is more than ever imperative to use plain and clear language to get key messages across to employees, whether the organisation wants to engage them in the question of how to keep the business going on the one hand or to tell them that they face redundancy on the other. 

The statutory requirements of the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act provide both expressly and by spirit for any organisation contemplating redundancies to provide clear information about the business, the need for making changes and redundancies and how those changes or redundancies will be implemented.  No amount of “on-ground truthing” and “managing for value” will make it any easier to make an employee redundant.  However, providing him with a clear explanation and process will help an employee to come to terms with losing his job and, perhaps coupled with careers advice, to move on and find another job.