Blogconfidential: Pontius Pilate I am not...

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Pontius Pilate I am not...

November 4, 2010

I manage a team of 16 staff and I have been told in confidence by my superiors that I will have to decide which of them are to be made redundant. I have been asked to draw up a list by the end of November, and a quarter of my team must go. I feel I cannot do this. The emotional burden of telling people that I am making them redundant is just too great for me to bear.

I am 55 years old, I have worked for my university for 22 years and I've lived through all the ups and downs of my colleagues' lives and all the challenges, disappointments and celebrations that we have all faced - together. I have suggested limiting the damage by reducing the team's work hours, but my bosses have turned down that proposal. Most of my team are young and have family and financial commitments.

I am thinking of walking - let someone else do the dirty work. There are some things worth doing in life and this isn't one of them. I am not prepared to take the easy route and rationalise this betrayal.

I have been inundated with readers' anxieties about similar "confidential" meetings, lists being drawn up and individuals being directed to think about who should stay and who should go.

I feel your pain and I commend your commitment to your staff group. It is always hard to manage difficult situations such as this, particularly when you have principles, values and ethics. But before you hand in your resignation, you must think about this situation a little more closely.

If we all accept that the job has to be done (given that most staff in universities are resolutely apolitical about the impending budget cuts and have rationalised that we must just accept them), you are the obvious choice to take responsibility for it.

Would it not be better that these very difficult choices were made by you, rather than some malicious or calculating individual from HR, or someone who makes value judgements based on criteria you would view as outrageous?

Wouldn't you prefer to break the bad news to your team yourself, rather than allowing some stranger to do it?

Making difficult decisions is part of the responsibility of being a manager. I don't believe that everyone in your team will handle the situation badly. Some will be able to survive redundancy more easily than others, and some will be resilient and have the skills they need to tackle new challenges elsewhere.

There is no doubt that this is a rough deal, but surely you are in the best position to judge who can handle the trauma, and who is genuinely redundant.

It is far better for you to take responsibility than to leave it to some corporate clone who will willingly dispatch orders with no sense of compassion, empathy or support. You can still hand in your resignation, but you should do this job before you leave. I think it makes sense.

Email your dilemmas to margot.feelbetter@tsleducation.com

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