How many consultation meetings for redundancy?

Conducting redundancy processes is an unavoidable part of any HR practitioner’s career. Many of us do it frequently, although the burden of putting an individual employee or a whole workforce through one of the most stressful and difficult times they’ll face in their own career doesn’t really get easier.

Because we worry about the impact on employees, of course we want to get the process right. But what should that process look like when it comes to consultation? How many meetings should you actually have?

The easy and not-particularly-helpful answer to this is “It depends”, and of course it does. If you are making large-scale redundancies, involving unions and collective consultation, with many employee groups and a timescale dictated by collective consultation requirements, you’ll have many more meetings than a single role being made redundant in a small organisation.

But there are two guiding principles I think HR practitioners would do well to remember when drafting a meeting schedule for a redundancy process.

What is consultation for?

It can be easy to fall into a trap of consultation being box-ticking. You may think that if you have lots of consultation meetings, that’s loads of consultation therefore no one can complain about not being consulted so the dismissals are fair. You’re being cautious.

But the key to a dismissal being fair (and, crucially, avoiding the perception of it being unfair) is to consult genuinely. Consultation is there for a reason. It is the employee’s opportunity to have a say. To have an input into decisions about their future. To comment on proposed selection criteria and speak up if they think those aren’t fair, or others should be considered. To ask questions about pool choices and explain why they may think the pools aren’t right. And to have all those comments and questions listened to, considered properly and responded to.

If employees feel they’ve had a genuine opportunity to participate in that way, have been taken seriously, and, where comments or requests have had to be met with a negative response, have had that clearly explained to them, they will feel genuinely consulted, and will be less likely to challenge their dismissal. And, as long as all of this has been captured in writing, they’ll be unlikely to succeed in challenging it anyway.

Taking time to remembering the principles of consultation and making sure those are achieved is far more important than having a set number of meetings. And that genuineness of consultation can potentially be achieved with very few meetings, and, occasionally, even with none at all, where the redundancy is extremely straightforward, communication is good, a meeting is offered, and the employee has ample opportunity throughout to raise any queries and concerns. Consultation is about quality not quantity. One good quality individual consultation meeting carefully followed up and acted upon can certainly be plenty in many cases.

A longer process isn’t necessarily a better one

How many consultation meetings you have is a determining factor in how long the redundancy process takes. But there does seem to be a bit of a tendency to assume that longer is automatically better.

Leaving aside specific collective consultation timescales, it’s wrong to assume taking more time to conduct a redundancy process is better, or fairer. Redundancy is a hugely stressful process for everyone involved, and rarely do employees wish it had gone on longer. Uncertainty is incredibly unsettling, for employees who are redundant and also for those who are left.

As long as the process is fair, and consultation is genuine, dragging it out longer than absolutely necessary doesn’t make it better for employees. Improving the quality of consultation means you don’t need multiple meetings, and don’t need to take as long, which benefits everyone.

So design your timetable carefully, and educate managers to make sure that consultation is genuine, with decisions made at the right time (not in advance of consultation). Communicate well, remain open to changing elements of the process based on feedback, foster an environment where, throughout the process, employees feel able to ask anything at any time, and the number of meetings required, and the time this takes, will reduce.

HR practitioners by and large really want to do the right thing for employees, particularly in a sensitive and traumatic situation like redundancies, and improving the quality of the process and remembering the impact on the workforce is a far better way of achieving this than scheduling in lots of consultation meetings because you think it’s the right thing to do.

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