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The Great Redundancy: How to keep your remaining people engaged

A lot of us have been deeply preoccupied with the Great Resignation since it emerged in 2021. But let's not forget the other (similarly named) phenomenon. The pandemic worsened redundancies across all kinds of sectors, peaking in late 2020. But, with growing economic uncertainty, some sectors worry about a recurrence. Which begs the question, how do you keep morale and motivation high in the face of the Great Redundancy?

The Great Resignation has been something of a liberating moment in time for employees of all stripes. But every coin has two sides. Up has down. Night has day. And, lurking in the shadow of the Great Resignation, there's the Great Redundancy.

Are redundancies growing in the UK?

The Office for National Statistics keeps an ongoing record of redundancy rates in the UK. During the height of the pandemic, between September and November in 2020, redundancies peaked at 14.5 employees for every thousand in the UK. That might not sound like much, but it's the highest since the ONS record began in 1995. For comparison, even the aftermath of the '08 recession peaked in Q1 of 2009 at 12.2 redundancies per thousand.

But mass resignations post-pandemic overshadowed the redundancies that came before them. There's been no shortage of think pieces complaining of talent shortages as employers scramble for wayward applicants. We've even touched on the UK's digital skills shortage ourselves. As you can imagine, businesses are eager to hold onto their people for the time being.

ONS stats reflect this. Redundancies have gone from a record-breaking high to an all-time low. The most recent available stats from March to May this year put them at only 1.8 per thousand. So, you might be wondering, why bring up the Great Redundancy now?

Well, if dealing with the economic fallout of COVID weren't bad enough, the Bank of England recently declared the UK is bound for recession. At least for right now, they're predicting it'll last for over a year, so buckle up.


Since a recession denotes a decline in economic activity and labour is a key economic input alongside capital, it stands to reason that employment must decline as output drops.

It seems law firms might be the proverbial canary in the coal mine of things to come. Sir Nigel Knowles, head of the London-based law firm DWF, has predicted mass layoffs for the UK's legal sector. And, apparently, the first to go may well be those who "jumped ship" from other firms.

According to Sir Nigel: 'The Great Resignation might well be followed by a Great Redundancy.'

Retaining your remaining talent

If you've already had to make recent layoffs in your business, it's a safe bet morale is in the pits. These things can be unavoidable, but that never makes it any easier. So, if you're struggling with the aftermath of the Great Redundancy, how do you keep your remaining staff happy and engaged?

Your people need consistent communication

In the Great Redundancy, you've got to remember that your people are scared. They're worried they'll be next, or that the company may even fold. As a manager, it's on you to help everyone keep a cool head.

That's why you need to be checking in with your people throughout any uncertainty. The simple outlet of having somewhere to voice concerns can make a difference. And, by asking about these things in an employee check-in, you'll stay clued in on what people worry about. That way, you'll have a much easier time addressing concerns directly.

Be as transparent as possible

It's tempting to sugar-coat the situation to keep people calm. But, if people are at risk of losing their jobs, they have a right to know so they can start putting out CVs just in case. Besides, if redundancies have happened, they're already looking anyway.

It might sound counterintuitive to make it easier for your remaining people to bail. But, if you want them to stick by you, then you need to respect employees by keeping them in the loop. If you're just shrugging people off with vague reassurances, they won't have confidence in whatever you have to say.

Use goal-setting to keep people focused

It can be hard to see anything other than doom and gloom when the Great Redundancy strikes. But, if you want to bounce back, you need to keep people on-task. That's where goal-setting comes in.

Obviously, SMART Goals turn mountains back into mole-hills. So, they're often better for solo or small team projects. But, today, we want to talk about the value of OKRs instead.

You see, OKRs are best-used for projects the whole business is working towards. You connect them to everyone's individual roles, which can be great for employee understanding. Work is so much more of a slog when it feels pointless, but OKRs show people the value of their work.

In a time when people worry about the future of the business, that's ridiculously valuable. People will be more motivated if you show they can make a difference. Solid OKRs are a way of saying, 'It's a bad situation, but this is how we find our way out.'

Reward innovation and job-crafting

After a round of personnel cuts, those who remain are left to pick up the pieces. And just because someone got made redundant doesn't mean they weren't shouldering some of the burden.

Your people have to find ways to pick up the slack. So, it's in your best interests to reward innovation where you see it. Maybe someone found a virtual tool that can automate part of the busy-work. Or they might have ideas about a more efficient meeting schedule.

Rather than throwing sudden changes at your employees, involve them in the discussion about how to proceed after cutbacks. And if someone decides to craft their role to shift their responsibilities, do your best to encourage it.

Ultimately, fortifying morale after redundancies is about providing support. When your people don't have a voice in the conversation, they're more likely to feel helpless. And when you don't keep them in the loop, they'll make the worst assumptions. So, even if their job is secure, they might quit anyway before that becomes apparent.