Communicating change | Pontins staff reportedly let go via text message after sudden holiday park closure

Pontins staff reportedly let go via text message after sudden holiday park closure

Staff at a Pontins holiday park say they were sacked via text message after the company closed down a third site in a matter of weeks.

The business, which is owned by Britannia, announced it was shutting down a third site in Southport, with a statement reading: “It is with great sadness that we announce the closure of Pontins Southport Holiday Park. After assessing the future viability of the park, we have come to the difficult decision to close.”

The blow came after the holiday park was hit by recent flooding, and comes just weeks after the company’s parks in Prestatyn, North Wales and Camber Sands closed their doors suddenly in November.

Following the announcement of the Southport closure, some now-former Pontins staff took to social media claiming they had found out they had lost their jobs by text message just hours before the announcement on social media.

Firms erring in informing staff of job losses

Earlier this year, some Pontins employees at the Prestatyn and Camber Sands sites reported first discovering the news on the firm’s social media page, at the same time as holidaymakers. But this is not the first occasion in recent times that businesses have hit the headlines over the way they’ve communicated job losses to their workforces.

In August 2023, hundreds of employees were told by text message that they’d lost their jobs after their company collapsed.

Advanced Traffic Management (ATM), a roadworks firm in Perth, Australia, went into liquidation days ago, and when workers arrived for their shifts in the morning, they received a text telling them they’d been let go, according to media outlet Seven News.

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Around 400 employees were affected, it was reported.

“Effective end of all shifts today, your employment with ATM shall cease,” the message to staff read.

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 March 17 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 also reported on the news that online US mortgage firm 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.

In November 2022, thousands of workers woke up to a text from their company informing them they’d been laid off with immediate effect.

United Furniture Industries, a firm based in Mississippi, US, sent messages to around 2,700 employees – its entire workforce - shortly before midnight last week, explaining their employment had been terminated and they would not be no allowed to return to work. Workers were later given instructions of how and when to collect any personal belongings that they had left at the premises.

“At the instruction of the board of directors… we regret to inform you that due to unforeseen business circumstances, the company has been forced to make the difficult decision to terminate the employment of all its employees, effective immediately,” the message read.

And in 2018, staff at Johnston Press (later JPIMedia and now National World), one of the UK’s biggest newspaper groups, received texts after 9pm on a Friday night to explain that the company had gone into administration and their contracts were being transferred to a new company.

The message is more important than the medium

It’s understandable that many firms are increasingly reliant on tech to relay important messages to large workforces, with Zoom calls and mass phone calls often becoming the medium for unwanted news such as job cuts.

The controversy lies not in the use of mass communications, but the tone and sensitivity with which the message is conveyed.

Speaking previously to HR Grapevine, 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’

Jonathan Passmore, a Professor of Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School, previously told HR Grapevine that digital communications do have an important role to play when announcing job losses, particularly at large firms like Klarna, hearing the news personally from ones' line manager is preferable to hearing you have lost your job in a broadcast communication.

Passmore explained “... 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.

“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."

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