It is important to have a strategy in place to keep staff motivated after your charity has made redundancies, says Ben Cook
The voluntary sector has been making redundancies at an alarming rate and many sector employees have felt the pain of losing their job.
But what about staff who remain at an organisation after their colleagues have been laid off? The feelings they experience have been likened to a bereavement, and it can leave them demoralised, anxious and desperate to find a new job. So how can voluntary sector managers ensure that staff who survive are sufficiently motivated as the depleted organisation tries to move forward?
“It’s similar to a bereavement process, and some staff need time to come to terms with it,” says Jacqueline Hill, founder of voluntary sector management consultancy, J Hill Associates.
Hill, who has provided consultancy services to a range of charities – including Age UK, The Brooke and Blue Cross Animal Welfare – adds that some managers fail to deal with the “human impact” of redundancy on the staff who remain, despite the fact that it can affect the organisation’s performance. “It can lead to less productivity and general malaise, but there seems to be a lack of awareness [among managers] of how to deal with it,” she says.
So how should managers help staff who may find themselves without some of their closest colleagues in the restructured organisation? “Though there may be a reluctance to unpick what has happened, you need to give staff an opportunity to vent,” Hill says. This involves getting staff to acknowledge their worries, but also giving them the opportunity to articulate what their professional ambitions are for the future, and importantly, identify what practical steps, however small, that can be taken towards achieving that goal.
“It may be high risk for a manager to have to hear these things, but the most important thing is to listen,” Hill says. She adds that one of the most common complaints from staff in such situations is that they “don’t feel they’ve been listened to”.
One voluntary organisation that Hill’s company helped following a restructuring process was London-based homelessness charity Thames Reach. The charity had integrated a new team into the organisation, a move that some staff felt had not been handled as well as it could have been. The organisation had also made some redundancies as well as changing some of the staff’s roles, as well as their terms and conditions.
In response, J Hill Associates held a workshop for the charity’s staff with the aim of helping them to get to know each others’ roles better, as well as enabling them to feel as if they could challenge each other in a constructive way. It also encouraged staff to generate new ideas for improving the charity’s services to clients and enabled them to present them to management in a way that explained the pros and cons. Workshop attendees reported that, following the event, the team was “more open”, had a “greater clarity of purpose”, and that the opportunity to air their views had left staff feeling more confident and better motivated.
Thames Reach chief executive Jeremy Swain, who took a reduction in salary as part of the restructuring, says the organisation “felt battered” having gone through the upheaval. “People feel that it’s brutal, jobs were re-graded at a higher or lower level so they were on tenterhooks and at the end of the process some felt dismal,” he says. “As a result, they were not as positive about the organisation or senior staff.”
Thames Reach’s strategy for motivating its employees involved creating a staff award, for which potential recipients are nominated by the charity’s service users. However, the charity has deliberately avoided going down the route of introducing performance-related pay. Swain argues that such a scheme does not necessarily reward the best performers and can “create a sense of inequity” within the organisation.
Management consultancy Decher Learning and Development founder Cornelia Decher – who has worked with charities including Muslim Aid and People in Aid – highlights research by workplace training company Blanchard that shows that 70% of organisational change programmes fail. “The reason for this is that the human impact of the change is neglected,” Decher says. She adds that the irony is that, while most change in organisations is designed to increase productivity, if restructuring is not handled in the right way, it has a “negative impact” on performance.
“In extreme cases, staff can feel so badly treated that they lose trust in the management and future changes will be resisted more,” Decher says. In such instances, the staff who have been kept on because the employer feels they are the best people to take the organisation forward could, in fact, be seeking the first opportunity to leave because they have lost faith in their bosses.
To motivate staff after a restructuring, management should be democratic rather than authoritarian, according to Decher. She says that involving staff in decisions will “reduce the negative effect” of the redundancy programme. “The [management] style should be more about coaching – a questioning, rather than telling, approach,” Decher says. This will empower frontline staff, who will probably know how the organisation could become more effective and productive.
Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says that it is very important that the staff who remain with the organisation see that the redundancy process was handled appropriately. “They have to see that you looked after those that went and gave them an opportunity to say goodbye – those at the top of the organisation have put a lot of people through a very difficult time, so show how you appreciate the people going, recognise their achievements,” he says.
Kernighan adds that for the staff that remain there may be anxiety about being burdened with an excessive workload. “There should be an expectation that people can say ‘this is too much’ and that you will help them prioritise.”
Kernighan says that when cutting costs it can be tempting to “cut non-staff costs to the bone” to avoid making redundancies but the staff who survive may need to be supported in new roles so you “have to ensure you have a training and development budget that you can apply soon after the restructuring”. If your organisation is scaling down, this provides a good opportunity to engage the employees who remain. “Smaller organisations need less bureaucracy, you can motivate staff by asking them how you can get rid of the bureaucracy that has got in the way of them doing the job,” he says.
Kernighan also adds that if an organisation is restructured, it is vital that the new structure is sustainable. “When you restructure, you lose the performance of the organisation; you need to have some sustainability and do it in a way that provides new opportunities for the staff that remain.”