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The Emotional Reality of Making Someone Redundant

Recently, Klarna made headlines following the layoffs of 10% of its workforce. Since then, there has been a stir around how companies should handle this sensitive matter. And it’s never easy - 98% of HR leaders say the pandemic has transformed their role while 70% say this has been one of the most challenging years of their career.

Being let go is no trivial matter. It is probably among the most traumatic events someone can experience in the workplace. However, it’s important to recognise what it’s like to be on the other side of the table in this scenario.

Firing an employee is never easy to do, irrespective of whether you’re a newbie in the HR space or a seasoned professional. In fact, 66% of users on our platform cite that being involved in delivering redundancy conversations has a tremendous impact on their mental health and wellbeing. This can extend to a range of consequences with reports of sleeplessness, poor self-care, difficulty in maintaining boundaries, or even feelings of detachment and anger.

Feeling guilty and anxious

This is probably one of the most common emotional reactions when making someone redundant. It’s entirely natural and speaks to the fact that you are human - capable of compassion and empathy. You recognize that this news may be among one of the worst things an employee can ever hear. It can eat you up, cause sleepless nights, and leave you catastrophizing over what will happen to this person, yet being in a relatively powerless position to help them.

“What if they can’t find another job?”

“What if they can no longer afford their rent?”


All of these hypothetical scenarios are natural to worry about, however, it’s important to recognize what you can and cannot do for this person. You can convey the bad news in a human and compassionate way, but you cannot ultimately keep this individual employed, or save them from the stress they will inevitably feel. It’s important to check in with yourself, and recognise that while these feelings are normal, allowing them to swallow you whole will ultimately not help anyone.

Feeling overwhelmed

Depending on the situation, it’s likely that you may have to deliver bad news to multiple employees in a short period of time. This can be emotionally exhausting as well as overwhelming. Because while each conversation has the same outcome, each conversation also contains the individual experience of the employee on the other end. Managing all of these experiences as a single person or team is tremendously difficult. What can be even more taxing is managing your own well-being and avoiding becoming an emotional sponge.

Feeling hurt

Making someone redundant is probably going to be one of the most emotionally charged experiences you have to handle. You will get visceral gut reactions, anger, or just a depressing silence on the other end. Within this, the employee may direct some of their feelings towards you since you are the one delivering the news. It’s important to pre-empt a potentially emotional response, but it’s even more important to set boundaries appropriately - you are not a human punching bag.

At this time, knowing where to draw the line, soliciting support and assistance from colleagues and differentiating between an individual’s anger about a situation and their anger at you are crucial.

Feeling nothing at all

On the flip side, you may not feel anything at all. This doesn’t mean that you are devoid of compassion or empathy, but it could indicate that your brain is trying to protect you from experiencing all of the above.

This also makes sense, especially when redundancies are delivered in quick succession or you’ve been in the game for a long time. The repeated emotional burden of the task can lead you to become hardened against the experience in a subconscious attempt to cope.

This makes sense as a self-protective measure. However, it’s vital to recognise that feeling nothing is the same as processing the experience. It’s likely that despite remaining relatively cool and pragmatic on the surface, there are waves of emotions that lie underneath.

Telling a person that their job no longer exists is never an easy task, and it can bring about a multitude of emotions for both parties. However, raising your self-awareness about the emotional reality is the first step to coping with the experience.

Next week, we will be publishing a follow-up article providing more in-depth practical tips to help HR professionals cope with the emotional reality of making someone redundant. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss it!

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