I received some sad news about a friend, a relatively new, first-time mother. Whilst she was In the midst of sorting out childcare and preparing her return to work, her employer called to advise that her role was being made redundant. My friend’s got no idea what she’s going to do; and undoubtedly she’ll pull things together over the coming weeks - but right now she’s just trying to stay on top of her emotions, which are travelling between distress and overwhelm.
In the situation where a team is being cut, and there are a number of redundancies, someone who is on parental leave losing their job is sad but it's likely to be seen as fair. However, when the person on parental leave is the only employee losing their job, that’s another story.
Way to go to:
- Shred the confidence of the already emotionally vulnerable
- Send a message to other employees thinking of having children
- Broadcast your company’s leadership values
I get that organisations have to make tough decisions about redundancy for business and economic reasons. What I'm not ok with is when an individual is singled out in a team of people performing similar roles and there’s not been a fair, transparent process. What I'm even less OK about is when a woman, still finding her way after having a baby, learns she hasn’t got a role to return to, and appears to be the only person in the organisation directly impacted by whatever necessity has led to the redundancy.
How the heck is this world supposed to become a better place if a woman can't go off and have a baby with peace of mind about her job security? It must be bliss to go on leave without feeling threatened that the person seconded into your role will ultimately replace you; or have an underlying fear that your employer might pull the rug out from beneath you whilst you’re on leave.
Even more infuriating is when the reasons supplied during ‘the conversation’ are so flimsy that the (soon to be former) employee is left to contemplate all the possible reasons they've been told they're being finished up.
There are organisations who are almost righteous as they describe these decisions as tough but necessary - and ease their conscience with ‘slightly above condition’ payouts. They put on appropriate sad voice and appropriate sad face and push across the Deed of Release, all the while telling the (soon to be former) employee how terrible they feel.
A courageous leader would hold off until the employee is back at work, socialise the business need and then manage a transparent (and fair) process. If there’s some screaming need to start the process earlier, then go right ahead, but run an open process.
Since 2010, I’ve had ringside seats watching organisations transition from being slightly uncomfortable telling women on parental leave their roles have been made redundant to thinking it’s perfectly acceptable business decision. I think it’s a process that at best is callous, and at worst, a form of discrimination that’s being normalised.
Image ECohen 'Mother and Baby', via Flickr
Update Sunday 10 August 2014
Coincidently, this excellent article written by Jacqueline Maley in the Sunday Herald was published today. Along with a far better written discussion about making women's roles redundant whilst they're on maternity leave - it touches also raises many, many issues that women confront around returning to work after having a baby.