Want to avoid unconscious bias in redundancy? Treat it like a recruitment campaign

2 minute read

With a raft of redundancies expected during 2021 as countries relax their job support schemes HR leaders must ensure they eliminate any form of bias in the process of making these difficult decisions. So instead of viewing it as redundancy why not view it as recruitment, asks Martin Goodwill from The People Space's Tech Space Brand Partner Great People Inside

Want to avoid unconscious bias in redundancy? Treat it like a recruitment campaign

Downsizing a workforce is pretty much like recruiting. You want the best people in your (smaller) workforce – but you have more ‘applicants’ than roles and you must ensure that you’re not discriminating against, or in favour of, particular candidates. So why not treat redundancy like a recruitment campaign?

COVID-19 has dealt a significant blow to many organisations’ plans for their immediate future. Instead of expanding, they’re reducing their workforce to match decreased revenue streams.

And while ‘sticklers’ are keen to point out that you make roles redundant, not people, the true impact is on loyal, living, breathing, rent-paying, family-providing-for people, not the roles they occupy.

How organisations handle this reduction process is important for departing employees but crucial for those remaining. Employees who stay can be prone to survivor syndrome (why did they go, and I stayed?) while also worrying they might be next.

You can’t eliminate every issue, but treat leavers fairly, make the process visible to your existing employees and the anxiety will diminish, leaving a more engaged and motivated workforce, driving your business forward.

There are many scenarios you might face. You may need to:

  • lose a percentage of roles, while identical roles remain
  • lose parts of different roles with remaining roles becoming hybrids of what’s left
  • simply lose headcount to steady the ship, reallocating any work that isn’t covered.

Whichever applies to your organisation, you have to try to retain the people who will help it thrive in future but the bottom line is the same. No one should be able to challenge your redundancy decisions in terms of bias or discrimination.

None of us is immune to bias, so we need to recognise, and eliminate, the potential for it. The temptation to retain people you like or people you think do a good job is huge – but you may have to justify subjective decisions.

And, of course, the roles you need in your new slimline organisation may not be the roles you have now, so identifying the best people for the ‘new’ hybrid roles could be key to your survival, not just your success. When survival is at stake, near enough is not good enough.

What’s the best process for an unbiased approach to redundancy?

Your response will be different, depending on whether you have:

  • an agreement on the process in your redundancy policy (last in, first out, for example)
  • measurable roles (sales, for example) where performance can be a key decision-making factor
  • roles that are not directly measurable (often the huge majority of roles).

If the roles you are considering are in categories one or two you have a reasonably clear path forward. But if they are, in part or entirely, in category three you need to look for a way that does not leave you open to challenge. In that eventuality, you should identify the key requirements of the role(s) and design a psychometric assessment that precisely matches those requirements. Remember, assessments (or at least benchmarks) should be different for different roles (one size really doesn’t fit all, whatever your current assessment provider may suggest).

Using customisable psychometrics you can design the exact assessment(s) you need for every role and identify your most successful employees in each role (or in the case of hybrid roles, the deliverables you need from the new, amalgamated roles). Then use this objective data to create a ‘success profile’ against which every relevant member of staff will be measured.

This way every individual gets an equal opportunity and any bias in your redundancy decision will be removed. A win all round. 

For more on Great People Inside and to view our video interview with Martin about why not every employee is suited to remote working and how HR teams and employers can discover which employees will flourish in, and embrace, a hybrid working world please click here 

Published 27 January 2021
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