In which I explore some language issues …

The following post first appeared in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog in The Guardian on line on 28 January. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Guardian.

What does the language of redundancy sound like? If they haven’t yet arrived, many unlucky public servants will soon be getting letters from their employers that will change fundamentally how they think and feel about work.

Perhaps the hardest thing to get to grips with is the tone of “at risk” letters. Sometimes the writer will beat around the bush before getting to the point. That wasn’t my experience, but others I have been in touch with say that it wasn’t obvious from the heading or the first few paragraphs that anything bad was about to happen.

“Shaping the future” is a tempting heading. Sounds faintly optimistic doesn’t it?

Then a first sentence that reads something like:

“As you will know the public sector is facing significant changes so I am writing to you to outline the opportunities and challenges our organisation faces.”


Still feeling quite cheery? Then work your way through, “Exciting ways of redesigning our service to better meet customer need,” and, “New ways of engaging with key stakeholders,” or perhaps even,”We can explore new ways of managing ourselves that make us fitter to meet the challenges ahead.”

Then it comes.

“Unfortunately the changes mean that we will have to reduce our workforce and I have to tell you that your job is therefore at risk.”


The sucker punch.

My experience was different. There was very little that could be done to sweeten my particular pill. Even so be prepared for the impersonal nature of the language which gets used. Making people redundant almost immediately makes HR people start writing to you in an English dialect called legalese. There’ll be timetables, regulations, minima and maxima and sometimes even a heretofore (if you are especially lucky).

Your “at risk” letter is just the start though. There’ll be consultation with your union representatives. You may even get offered the chance of an individual meeting with management. I took my employer up on this and enlivened an HR colleague’s afternoon up with a melancholy monologue of how I felt about it all.

Of course after the consultation period ends – assuming there is no change of heart – you’ll get the redundancy notice. Again there will not be much of comfort here. Instead expect a longish setting out of rights, responsibilities and financial details. There may be offers of help and support in the letter. Make sure you take up everything on offer and look more widely too as there are lots of great sources of independent information. Then get ready for the notice period twilight.

In many cases I’ve heard about employers show a staggering lack of emotional intelligence. You may well be being made redundant when there is an ongoing need for the work you do. Your managers will try to wring every last drop of productive time from you. You’ll increasingly face two tensions.

You’ll want to march out of employment with your head held high at remaining professionally committed right to the last. But you’ll increasingly hear a voice which says, “look after yourself and your family”. Don’t beat yourself up for becoming less committed to your employer’s cause and more committed to your own. That’s only natural. You didn’t ask to be put in this position.

Professional pride won’t pay the bills after you’ve been shooed off the premises at the end of your notice period.


About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
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4 Responses to In which I explore some language issues …

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention In which I explore some language issues … | A redundant public servant's blog --

  2. Rick says:

    Did you see this piece on “The Tyranny of Positivity”?

    Anyway, congratulations on being empowered to re-model your career in the flexible labour market! 😉

  3. Pingback: The Inhuman Side of Human Resources « Karen Wise's HR Blog

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