Redundancy, Mental Health and the Employer

April 2019

Redundancy, Mental Health and the Employer

human figures against grid background - Redundancy, Mental Health and the Employer

Early in 2019, Honda confirmed its intention to close its Swindon car plant in 2021, with the loss of some 3,500 direct jobs. Not to mention the related jobs in Honda’s supply chain. The company’s Swindon plant is its only EU base, building 160,000 Honda Civics a year.

Those affected will now be dealing with a range of emotions.  In a previous post we’ve examined mental health in the workplace in general. But this worrying news from Honda makes it timely to explore workplace mental health in relation to redundancy and the particular problems it brings.

Euphemisms

When companies are firing their employees they often draw on the gamut of euphemisms used to soften the bitterness of the pill.  They talk of downsizing, outsourcing, rationalisation, organisational change, company review or restructuring. In Honda’s case they cited global changes in the car industry and their need to launch electric cars, claiming Brexit not to be an influence. Here is not the place to debate that.

Yet it makes no difference what spin you put on it, when someone is fired from their work their emotions tend to follow similar patterns.

Loss of Identity

Redundancy is now more commonplace than it was a generation or so ago. The old notion of the job for life and the gold watch at the end of many years of faithful service is long-gone. Ergo, redundancy doesn’t, for some at least, have the same level of negative connotation that it did a generation ago. It’s almostbecome a fact of working life.

Faceless queue of people

That said, for someone that’s been in one job for well over twenty years – as is true for some of Honda’s workers – their redundancy notices are likely to be a bitter blow. When someone’s been in one job for a long time they tend to have invested a lot, oftentimes too much, of themselves in it.  Thus, losing it might lead to a loss of identity – a feeling of having no function. Returning to the old-job-for-life society of old, retirement often had the same effect. 

In addition, self-confidence can become eroded the longer the joblessness goes on for. Society goes to work – if you’re not, then that can be tough. Men in particular are vulnerable here.

This 2018 article from the Telegraph, about how to deal with redundancy, discusses the relationship between job loss and mental health. James Laurence, from the University of Manchester, observed that certain factors magnified redundancy’s negative effects. Such as having redundancy forced upon them rather than choosing it. He found that those who’d had redundancy forced upon them – like Swindon’s Honda workers – had significantly lower senses of self-confidence . This in both their employability and in general.

Moreover, the more an individual valued their job, the greater was their post-redundancy loss of confidence. Studies comparing those forced to resign with those who chose to, found higher levels of depression in the former along with a reduced tendency to look for new work. And, even if they did get another job, they often remained depressed, lacked commitment to it and worried more about losing that job. These tendencies were much less marked in those who’d chosen redundancy.

Common Reactions

The one saving grace that the Honda workers have – if we can call it that – is that they have time to prepare for the end. It’s a small crumb of comfort from an otherwise unpalatable cake. Because of course it happens too often that too many workers have no prior warning or sense that their job is going. Either way, the typical reaction is physical shock alongside classic grief symptoms. Because make no mistake about it, job loss is a bereavement and incurs the same reactions:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Loss of confidence and a sense of ‘why me?’

It’s not hard to see the potential detrimental effect on mental health.

How do we then cope with losing that which we don’t expect to lose? And here I’m referring to both employer and staff. For Honda, firing 3,500 people might be nothing more than collateral damage. But for the small business owner, having to fire staff is as distressing to do, as it is to be the soul or souls on the receiving end.

Should you be an employer facing this situation, Go-Legal HR will advise and support both you and your staff through the process.

We will help you ensure you have a meaningful redundancy consultation process and assist you with making correct redundancy payment calculations.

From giving your staff enough time off to look for work to your redundancy selection criteria there’s a lot for you the employer to think about.

Done well, you can at least limit, if not remove altogether, the potential detrimental effects on your employees’ mental health. We’re here to help you through it.

Don’t wait – get in touch now and arrange a consultation to talk it through in more detail.

Redundancy can be a positive thing

While it is difficult to appreciate when you are affected by redundancy, it’s important to be aware that it doesn’t haveto be the end of the world. It can be the harbinger of a whole new one.

Many people that have lost their jobs, whether by choice  or had it forced upon them, take advantage of their situation. They return to education or start a business. With hard work and determination, they turn an undoubted negative into a whole new life. It’s not easy no – but the phoenix can arise from the ashes.