Evolve and Thrive: how to keep people safe when you can’t

Fraser Silvey

By Fraser Silvey

28 May 2019

We recently hosted Evolve and Thrive: Brexit, a roundtable discussion for senior HR and business leaders. We heard from experts in Brexit planning, organisational change, and behavioural psychology, and discussed how organisations can best prepare for the changes Brexit will bring.

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Of particular importance was the need to help employees ‘feel safe.’ My colleague Elaine Stephens, an expert in the psychology of change, demonstrated how uncertainty evokes a fear response in people. Adrenaline levels rise and people enter ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can have devastating effects on morale and the success of change programmes.

So it’s important to keep people feeling safe during organisational change to keep them productive, and to keep your change agenda on track. But we all know that it’s not always possible to keep people ‘safe’. Restructures usually mean job losses, as organisations look to become leaner and better able to adapt to future conditions. So how do you keep people feeling safe, when in a very real sense you can’t keep them safe?

What does ‘safe’ mean?

On the face of it, it seems an impossible task. You have to tell people that they will be made redundant, yet you also want them to feel safe. How do you do it? The key is to revisit the idea of what ‘safe’ means.

The presumption is that ‘feeling safe’ means knowing that your job is secure. But in reality the feeling of safety comes more from what that job provides. Job security makes us feel safe because it provides certainty. Certainty that we can meet our basic needs for survival and to feel like we have value, and certainty around what we’ll be doing tomorrow, the week after, and so forth – because we know what our job entails. Not having a job, or knowing your job is at risk, fills the future with uncertainty – and that’s where people start to react negatively, putting your entire change agenda at risk.

If we want people to continue to feel safe, even if they are being made redundant, we need to provide a measure of certainty for them. That’s certainty that they will continue to be able to meet those basic needs, and certainty as to what will happen to them in the coming days, weeks and months.

The value of outplacement

Outplacement support can make a massive difference in the situation I’ve outlined above, providing certainty for people and minimising the damage to your organisation that negative, fear-based responses can do.

Principally, outplacement greatly increases a person’s chances of finding a new role or opportunity if they’re made redundant. This helps remove the fear that people will be unable to support themselves or feel valued. Even in those initial stages of a restructure, when people may not be sure if their job is at risk or not, the knowledge that outplacement support is available can help them feel more certain about what their options are.

Outplacement can also help counter the innate uncertainty of the process of finding and transitioning to a new opportunity. By supporting people at every stage of the process, outplacement can help people move on from an organisation with confidence. At Connor, we even provide people with 90 days onboarding support too, to make sure that their transition into their new role is as smooth and comfortable as possible. We see time and time again that outplacement support helps turn redundancy from a negative event to a positive opportunity in the minds of those going through it.

Outplacement services also send a clear message to everyone in your organisation – those leaving and those staying – that you care about your people and won’t leave them without support. This can counter the uncertainty that often prevails during transition periods, and even if people initially respond negatively to the news, this is still better than people not knowing what is happening.

The importance of this should not be overlooked – while those staying with your organisation might be ‘safe’ in the sense that they still have jobs, if the atmosphere in the office is one of negativity and uncertainty, their own fear responses are likely to surface.

Is your organisation ready to evolve and thrive?

With the right tools and strategies in place, organisations should be able to help everyone feel safe as the organisation adapts to the Brexit landscape – even if those people are being made redundant. If you feel you might be in a position where you need to restructure, then please visit our outplacement for your organisation page to discover how we can support you and your people through that transition.

Of course, your thinking may not be that far advanced when it comes to Brexit planning. If you’re like the many organisations out there that are just starting on their Brexit journey, we’d love to offer you a free consultation to help you identify if your organisation is ‘Brexfit’.’ Sign up here, or call us on +44 (0)1491 414010.



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