Be present when handling retrenchments, says BHBW's Malisha Awunor

Malisha discusses her approach to what has been the most challenging aspect of her profession.

Having explained how mass retrenchments can go wrong, it was fitting to revisit what one of CHRO South Africa’s community members on how she has approached the task of having to cut down headcount drastically in the interest of the organisation. With over 20 years’ experince in human resources, Malisha Awunor, Head of HR at BHBW, has had extensive experience in the management of retrenchments, particularly in the mining industry.  

For a period of five years, she has had to run with successive retrenchment programmes across different companies.  Each of these processes was concluded in a respectful manner and there have been minimal labour disputes and no industrial action. This is largely due to the fact that while she was at the helm she always follows the letter of the law when executing a section 189 retrenchment process, she says.

“The retrenchments are a part of my career that I would never want to repeat. When you have someone who's old enough to be your father crying in your arms because they don't know how they are going to support their family, it changes something in you,” she says.

“You have to be fair, consistent and demonstrate a commitment to involving the people that are going to be affected, rather than just trying to tick a box around consultation. Be transparent, present a sound business case and give people time to review and respond. Each response is worthy of review and feedback. Be present and available for any questions and communication. That is the most critical thing.”

Malisha says companies often get it wrong because, in addition to waiting too long before consulting with employees, the approach taken is premeditated and calculated. When the approach is impersonal and numbers-driven, the lack of empathy drives resentment, resistance and distrust and these have a direct impact on the overall process.