Furloughing employees, facilitating remote working, and making redundancies are just some of the options businesses have been using to cope with COVID-19. But, such measures can bring on uncertainty, ambiguity, and in some cases – anger – which HR then has to help manage.
When redundancies are on the cards, HR finds itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, redundancies might be needed to save capital; however, it is an unfortunate thing to have to consider, and employees may become angry when they hear the news.
Approaching an angry employee doesn’t just require you to be balanced and objective, it also demands emotional intelligence. But, how can leaders demonstrate emotional intelligence in a remote working context? What can HR do to support their business in these situations?
Here are four suggestions for dealing with an angry employee.
Give your employees as much information as you can
When a redundancy has to be made, HR should work with the business to ensure they can clearly communicate the rationale for that redundancy. It is not enough for an employer to point at COVID-19 or the economy. You must make sure you can explain to the affected employee how the current situation has impacted the business and why it has diminished the need for their role.
The manager or HR partner delivering the news needs to give the employee sufficient information, communicating very clearly, to ensure the employee understands the situation. An employee shouldn’t be made aware of their redundancy, only to then be left to interpret it alone and in the dark, where they’re more likely to become defensive and angry.
Give them time
Being told they’re being made redundant may hit an employee quite hard. And, if they’re given the news in a remote environment, they won’t have the face-to-face support of HR or their manager.
It’s prudent for HR to highlight to managers that employees may be gathering their thoughts after hearing about their redundancy in complete isolation at home, which could intensify any tensions they may be feeling.
While you should give an employee time to understand and process what’s happening, you must also then be prepared to follow up and answer their questions with care. Think about what support services you can provide to the employee: do you have outplacement services available?
Make sure they feel heard
Anger can be – but isn’t always – irrational. An angry employee probably isn’t going to be able to convey their worries and frustrations coherently, especially over a video call. But the person delivering the news needs to do their best to ensure the employee feels heard.
If the employee becomes angry, it might be tempting to tune out any shouting or to match their negative energy, but this is likely to just escalate the situation. It’s vital for the HR representative or line manager delivering the news to stay professional and to be as diplomatic as possible.
Emotional intelligence is just as important as objectivity when dealing with redundancies. Not all managers have strong EI, but HR can provide tips to help with this.
Granted, if working remotely, you won’t be able to see the individual’s body language, but you can pick up on emotional cues in other ways. If you’re speaking on a video call, maintain eye contact with the employee and remove self-view, so you’re focusing on them and not how you look while delivering the news. Do not interrupt them mid-sentence, nod to demonstrate your engagement, and above all, try to avoid sounding too scripted.
Leaders should step up and be genuine in these conversations. They should be prepared to discuss their own vulnerabilities and share their feelings about the situation, showing that they understand the employee’s fears and concerns, and that they’re in it together.
Most workers are well aware of the current economic situation, and they know they could be made redundant. The way businesses handle redundancies is extremely important. HR should play a key role in making sure redundancy conversations go smoothly, and in helping both managers and employees if the person being made redundant becomes angry.
For more information on dealing with anger, read ‘Dealing with angry employees’