Human Law Ezine - January 2009
Negotiating in a Redundancy Environment
In these tough economic times many business managers and HR professionals are being kept busy with concerns of how to keep the business going, minimise costs and continue to serve customers. Daily news headlines report redundancies, short –time working and other measures aimed at keeping the wolf from the corporate door. Human Law Mediation is increasingly being asked to provide organisations with advice on the redundancy process as well as a company’s rights in terms of cutting wages or reducing working hours so as to keep their business going.
It is a symptom of the tough economic times we have.
Of course managers are right to take advice – as any business needs to stay on the right side of the law in these circumstances. But knowledge itself isn’t enough, it’s just as important to deploy the right skills, especially through any negotiation process.
Here’s the Human Law Mediation guide to the skills and approach that managers and human resource professionals should employ to conduct effective negotiation within a downsizing environment.
1 Focus on commercial needs – This is self evident but sometimes the stress of economically tough times and the potential to get involved with legal advice, means that decisions can become emotionally clouded. The danger is that a manager’s understandable fear for the future of the organisation can lead to that person assuming that things are worse than they really are or in fact better. A word with your finance director or accountant can pay dividends as it leads to one having objective professional advice and therefore being more composed.
2 Have a baseline legal understanding but nothing more – In my experience the more effective negotiators are not those that have massively detailed knowledge but those who have a broad understanding of the law and have the confidence to apply it themselves. When I provide legal advice to clients it tends to be in broad, easy to understand terms, but crucially leaving options open to the client. We would never advise our clients to do anything illegal but if you start focusing on an exclusively legal solution the danger is that you neglect other solutions which may be available to you.
3 Focus on what outcome you want. If your organisation is in economic difficulties there are a number of options which are available to you such as sabbaticals, voluntary redundancy, pay cuts, retirements and resignations. Sometimes you may feel that your legal advisor is telling you what you cannot do but more often than not there are a variety of options open to you. You never know, some of your staff may want to take an opportunity to leave.
4 Use the economic situation to your advantage. I read an article in the weekend press in which a leading London law firm was effectively advising how difficult it was to impose a pay cut on staff. The law can be difficult but the reality is that any employee who is still within employment will (should!) be glad to have a job. This does put the firm in a stronger position to dictate terms and should not be neglected when considering negotiation options.
5 Maintain a higher level of integrity. If you are straight with people and communicate honestly the difficulties you face then the chances are that your staff will respond in a more favourable way than if you are more guarded. Ensure that you do not abuse this trust as when things do pick up (and eventually they will); you may be losing those staff to the competition.
6 Keep talking and do not hide behind advisers. In my role as mediator what I try to do when relationships are breaking down is to ensure that the parties are not just talking to each other but do so in an authentic and direct way. If communication starts being done via lawyers or third parties then you are setting in motion problems which will come back to haunt you one way or another. An expression of anger communicated directly does not have to be a bad thing as it lets off steam and in fact can recommence the process of sound communication.
If you are struggling in the current financial crisis and need advice on your options under latest employment law or assistance in strategic terms with how to present the options to your workforce contact Justin Patten. Call Justin on 0844 800 3249 or email Justin here.
Further reading: 10 Tips for an Effective Negotiation
Free download – Keeping away from Employment Tribunals and Courtroom Battles