'Savage as it gets' | Missguided's redundancy process sparks anger - how can HR get it right?

Missguided's redundancy process sparks anger - how can HR get it right?

Fashion retailer Missguided has attracted controversy over the way it announced a string of redundancies, following its collapse into administration.

The Manchester-based firm announced it was letting go of 80 staff members, after appointing administrators Teneo as a result of increased supply chain costs, inflation and weakened consumer confidence.

Redundancies will always be unwelcome news for the majority of employees, but in this case, it was not the redundancy announcement itself that sparked anger, but the way in which it was handled.

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As reported by The i newspaper, the announcement was made via two separate phone calls – one for staff whose jobs were safe, and another for those who would be laid off.

One former employee alleged that staff who were not working at the time, such as those on holiday or maternity leave, were not informed of the decision directly, and had to find out via colleagues and social media posts that they were now unemployed.

Further claims made by now-ex Missguided workers include:

  • Staff were only given 20 minutes' notice before the phone call

  • Workers were unaware two separate phone calls had been organised

  • Staff were muted during the short call and given no opportunity to speak

  • Sacked employees were told not to return to the office and that someone would return any belongings to them

  • Security guards were placed outside the firm’s Manchester office to stop axed staff entering

One anonymous employee described the 4-5 minute call as “as savage as it gets”, while another said it was worse than the controversial sackings at P&O Ferries earlier this year which saw 800 employees terminated immediately via a video call.

“At least they [P&O Ferries staff] got a video, we just got a phone call…I couldn’t even say goodbye to my colleagues” the anonymous worker told The I.

The company had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

‘The message is more important than the medium’

In the current era of hybrid working, it is understandable that many firms are adapting the way they announce major company decisions – with Zoom calls and mass phone calls often becoming the medium for unwanted news such as job cuts.

In March 2022, P&O Ferries hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, when hundreds of the company’s staff were told, via a video clip, that this would mark their final day of employment. In the same recorded clip, the firm told staff they were being replaced with cheaper agency staff.

Earlier in the pandemic, HR Grapevine reported on the news that online US mortgage firm Better.com sacked 900 employees over a Zoom call. After a backlash on social media, CEO Vishal Garg apologised for failing to show adequate "respect and appreciation" for the employees he sacked.

Additionally, in 2020, it was reported that workers at the ride-hailing firm Uber were informed that they would be losing their roles via a three-minute video Zoom conference call.

Speaking previously to HR Grapevine about virtual redundancy announcements, such as video calls, Adele Edwin-Lamerton, Senior Associate, Employment at Kingsley Napley, said the move to digital-first working practices mean that many in-person meetings now take place online.

She said: “Due to the increase in hybrid working, meetings which previously would have only taken place in person now frequently occur remotely. Although this can feel impersonal, what is key is that the appropriate process is followed. It’s not so much the medium which is used, but the message it conveys which is important.

“However pressed they are for time, employers should remember that they need to adopt a fair process and consult with their employees.”

‘Leaders need more digital training’

Professor Jonathan Passmore, Senior Vice President at CoachHub, says that while digital communications do have an important role to play when announcing job losses at sizeable firms, hearing the news personally from ones' line manager is preferable to hearing you have lost your job in a broadcast communication.

Passmore said: “... as part of the C-Suite’s wider communication remit there is also a role to be played by a broadcast communication during the process of letting an employee go. This communication should explain more about the background to the decision, taking responsibility and sharing in the pain which such decisions cause for the individual, their family and the wider community, if the firm is a large local employer.

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“Technology is a facilitator of communications, but just because we can, does not mean we should. Leaders need to leverage technology while not losing sight of the humans who are receiving such messages. A broadcast message ensures everyone receives the same message, at the same time, but its strength is its weakness, as not every individual is the same. For some a redundancy may be welcome news, for others a mild disappointment, while for many it provokes both a financial and personal crisis."

Passmore concluded: “At present, leaders have little training on digital communications and few organisations have protocols. As we move forward in 2022, business schools need to look again at what a leader in a hybrid world looks like and adjust what they teach. Meanwhile, organisations must look critically at their processes to ensure they still concentrate on the people which make up their organisation, putting into place support mechanisms such as workplace and career transition coaching, to help their employees navigate recent years’ life changes."

What should the redundancy process look like?

The redundancy process is wrought with stress and anxiety, not just for employees, but also the HR teams overseeing the process. It’s crucial, therefore, that process is handled sensitively and professionally.

On its website, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) offers insight from Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at Croner, who advises firms on their HR policies – part of which covers redundancy packages. He said that honesty and clarity are the components of successful support.

“Being made redundant can be an incredibly distressing time, so it is essential that employers maintain regular dialogue with affected staff,” Holcroft said.

“Given the complexity of a redundancy procedure, employers should provide individuals with a clear explanation of their rights and a timeframe for when decisions will be made. This reduces any unnecessary stress and ill feeling among the workforce. Employees with a minimum of two years’ service are eligible for a reasonable amount of time off to look for new work or to arrange training for future employment.”

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