Friday, April 11, 2014

Retrenching in a Humane Way

There is never a perfect time to hear the disappointing news of the loss of one’s job and ultimately the loss of income. In the trying economic circumstances with which we are faced the words retrenchment, restructuring and downsizing have all been used to placate harsh news delivered to employees almost on a weekly basis. 

Whether in the private sector, civil society or the public sector job cuts have been the order of the day no matter the size of the organisation. It is acknowledged that things cannot remain the same with the ripple effect of declining revenue. However the manner in which downsizing and restructuring have been ongoing is certainly a cause for concern.  

There is no shortage of press coverage highlighting irate workers and union leaders voicing their displeasure at the manner in which dismissals have been undertaken. From letters delivered while on vacation, early morning calls not to report to work, locked office doors and dismissals in the middle of union negotiations; workers have been having a torrid time.

Being treated in this manner by an employer is understandably heartbreaking particularly for those who may have been with an organisation for ten years or more and have given of their best effort in whatever position they held. Not only is the emotional attachment severed but there is also disruption to other aspects of their lives.  

Many of these persons will have dependents; children still in school or elderly parents who may need to be taken care of. There may also be mortgage or car payments, groceries and of course utilities to be paid. Barbados is still a society comprised primarily of single parent households. The majority of such households are headed by females. In light of the current retrenchments we can safely assume that women are more likely to be affected than men and will find it more difficult to become re-employed. With all the various responsibilities of a typical single parent household and suddenly being thrown into a state of unemployment, one can easily imagine the emotional distress of many single mothers across our country.   

The way in which restructuring has been carried out in some sectors has certainly been anything but humane. It raises the question as to whether our society and its institutions are really as caring and compassionate as we make them out to be. One social commentator giving his views on the issues noted that there is no easy way to tell an employee that he or she will be let go. The commentator also noted that the employer has to take into consideration the possibility of retaliation such as physical harm, damage to the equipment and property and the destruction of critical information and documents if advanced notice is given.

In my estimation, while an employee is not likely to express joy on hearing of job loss, he or she is certainly less likely to react in an expressly negative manner if that loss comes with a human touch to it. In many circumstances persons are hired through an interview process and go through an orientation process with management and human resource personnel before assuming their duties. If the process coming in requires such formalities then going out should also have a human touch to it, particularly where an employee has been dismissed not due to underperformance but the need to  restructure.

Retrenching an employee with simply a piece of paper stating that his or her services are no longer required makes it appear as though some invisible hand has intervened and decided that person’s fate. Such an approach leaves a lasting impression on the former employees, on the general public and certainly on those who remain with that organisation.

For the employees retrenched, trust is broken and there is a feeling of betrayal or what some in management may refer to as a break in the psychological contract between employer and employee. For those employees still within in the organisation there is every possibility that they will become distrustful of committing their time and energy to the organisation having seen the treatment of their colleagues. As is currently the case in many organisations, the remaining employees will be expected to undertake additional duties with greater pressure exerted on them to produce without commensurate adjustments in pay while operating in a climate of uncertainty.

Our late Prime Minister often stated that Barbados is more than an economy it is a society. With the plethora of management professionals, management textbooks, courses available at our institutions of higher learning and unlimited seminars, our country should be better equipped to manage the process of downsizing across the various sectors.

We must remember that the retrenched worker is also a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a potential customer, voter, and future employee within the society. In a small society such as ours it would not take much for lower morale to impact productivity, profitability and any other indicators of economic growth. Our people must be treated as human beings and not merely as economic or financial statistics. The current situation calls for greater emotional intelligence and for a greater sense of dignity to be accorded to our ordinary workers especially in circumstances where they are to be relieved of their jobs.  

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