Budget UK airline Monarch collapsed on Monday 2 October, with 1,858 staff losing their jobs at a stroke. While a detailed breakdown of which employees occupied which roles has yet to be revealed, there can be little doubt that a significant proportion of the redundancies would have occurred at management and supervisory levels.

Questions have mounted over how Monarch’s senior leadership team broke the news to staff, with pilots’ union BALPA condemning the move to require staff who couldn’t make face-to-face redundancy meetings to join an hour-long conference call on a premium-rate, 0844 number that cost a total of £40 in phone charges. The union’s general secretary Brian Strutton described the decision as, “A kick in the teeth when [employees] are already down,” adding: “This is unbelievably cold-hearted … Since [the news emerged], we’ve seen appalling treatment of Monarch staff.” It all serves to highlight the way in which senior management teams’ handling of redundancy can be mired in bureaucratic facelessness, worsening employees’ shock.

How should senior leadership teams tackle redundancies in a way that will inflict as little trauma as possible? And how should managers who have been made redundant make the most effective recovery and get themselves back in the game?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Redundancy has a significant, painful impact, particularly if you haven’t seen it coming. If, as a leader, you find yourself having to announce prospective redundancies, the determining factor in how your statement is perceived will be authenticity. You absolutely must not lie about the circumstances that have triggered the redundancies. In addition, you must be totally honest about what you’re not allowed to reveal. And if, as a senior figure, you are somehow in a position where you have covertly ring-fenced a secure position for yourself – the like of which other members of staff will not be able to enjoy – then all the sensitive communication in the world won’t ameliorate your colleagues’ feelings of having been sold out, if that information comes to light. The overarching message must be that if we’re genuinely all in this together, then we will genuinely all be upset together. And it is incumbent upon someone in the senior team to convey that in a tactful fashion.”

Cooper notes: “The underlying theme here is honesty. If you have gradually built up a relationship with your staff whereby they trust what you say and don’t think that you’re providing false, inaccurate or misleading messages, then when you come to making such announcements, their pain is your pain – and vice versa. The threshold of redundancy is never where communication problems of this kind begin and end. On the leader’s part, there will already be a track record of miscommunication and lack of trust – and I think ultimately, a lack of integrity, too. There’s no quick fix for managers who handle redundancy in an ungracious manner – it all hinges upon the preceding, long-term relationship. The journey towards that crunch point always begins a long time before.”

Turning to what employees can do to safeguard themselves against the impact of redundancy, Cooper says: “Since 2011, our research has revealed an increasing trend for individuals to take responsibility for their own training and development. Previously the expectation would have been that your organisation would put you on a development path that led to progression. But now – with people typically having more jobs in their lifetimes than previous generations did, and undergoing more frequent career transitions – the responsibility for development has fallen more within the remit of the individual.

“So that makes for a useful shield against the effects of redundancy: you’re not relying upon the organisation to look after your future career. You’re relying upon yourself. It’s vital to stay abreast of trends in your industry, to keep refreshing yourself with meaningful CPD activities that can go on your CV and LinkedIn profile – and to keep scanning the career opportunities out there that are available.”

She adds: “That’s not to play down the feelings that workers have – and no doubt many of the Monarch staff would have experienced – in the immediate aftermath of redundancy news. But that’s where sensitive outplacement coaching, confidence building and CPD all play such crucial roles. A constant, committed engagement with your own development, whether or not you’re facing redundancy, is the best way to protect yourself against it. To keep acquiring new skills and capabilities, and to keep a watchful eye on the sector in which you’re working, is effectively to future-proof your employability.

“One of the most empowering weapons that anybody can have for protecting their own future is the knowledge that they have choices. In order to have that knowledge, you must provide those choices for yourself.”

For further thoughts on integrity, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of Monarch tailfin courtesy of Craig Russell, via Shutterstock