‘The nature of bad news infects the teller’: The experiences of envoys in the face to face delivery of downsizing initiatives in UK public sector organisations

Ashman, Ian (2012) ‘The nature of bad news infects the teller’: The experiences of envoys in the face to face delivery of downsizing initiatives in UK public sector organisations. Project Report. Acas, London, UK.

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Official URL: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/b/f/0312_Downsizi...


This study builds on a previous research paper published by Acas (Ashman 2012) that explores the experiences of public sector employees that have been given the task of delivering the generally bad news of downsizing decisions face to face with the victims and then deal with the immediate repercussions – labelled downsizing envoys. The evidence from that paper is combined here with data gathered from envoys in the private sector in order to identify the similarities and differences in the experiences of envoys between the two sectors.

The aim of this paper is to develop further our understanding of the envoy situation and to identify what instances of good practice can be garnered from either sector.

In combination with evidence from the public sector study a total of 50 envoys were interviewed; where 24 came from across 9 public sector organisations, a further 24 from across 8 private sector organisations and two independent consultants. The interviewees are all presently or recently based in the North West of England. Including the 2 consultants 30 envoys are HR professionals and the other 20 are envoys drawn from other organisational functions.

A broad summary of the data gathered would indicate that in terms of how they undertake the role - that is, regarding attitude and personal conduct - the envoys are very similar irrespective of their sector or organisation. However, where the sector does have a differentiating influence is on how the role affects the envoys – in other words, the emotion and strain experienced in carrying out the task. Factors that make a difference here include how much support is available to envoys and what part they play in decision making processes.

Suggestions for good practice:
The suggestions for good practice include ensuring that envoys are involved in decisions that affect their role and impact upon their understanding of downsizing rationale; that envoys do not feel forced into the role; that realistic efforts are made to train and develop envoys – especially with regard to the emotional aspects of the role; and to ensure that envoys are properly supported throughout downsizing activity.

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