Retrenchment and the Christian employer: Two suggestions

I remember once hearing the story of a minister who had a man in his congregation come to him after a church service. This man was in a management position and that week he’d had to retrench five of his staff. He told this minister what he’d had to do and then said “I’ve never heard a sermon explaining to me what I should do as a Christian in that situation”.

It got me thinking, how should a Christian employer distinctively handle that situation? Here are two suggestions.

Firstly, it is worth affirming the truth that retrenching staff is never pleasant. Retrenchment is painful. People’s dreams and expectations about their future are being turned on their head. A source of income is ending and that brings with it all sorts of concerns and stresses. Pressure is being put on people to find a new job, and in many cases, quickly. None of is this is trivial.

And that is the first point to remember…and affirm to the affected employee. Retrenchment is a reminder of the Fall. Work, while it is a part of God’s creation, has been impacted by our sin. We now “toil” and work “by the sweat of our brow” (Gen. 3:17-19). Laying off staff is an example of the “toilsome” nature work now has.

As a Christian employer we can communicate this in some way to those staff being affected. No, they may not share the same worldview which allows them to understand the fallen nature of work. But nevertheless Christian employers can still communicate “This is not the way it’s meant to be”. We can genuinely sympathise with them and communicate our disappointment about the situation. Showing genuine sympathy and communicating “This is not the way it’s meant to be” is one way Christian employers can handle the retrenchment of staff in a distinctive way.

Secondly, we can love and serve those affected employees by doing all within our power to ensure that they are treated fairly and are as prepared as possible to find other work. Loving and serving their employees is one of the primary ways employers can work in a way which honours God. And that includes the unpleasant role we sometimes have of laying off staff.

In that situation we should seek to put the interests of our employees before our own and “go in to bat for them”, advocating for them as they prepare to leave. What more can we do to ensure that they are paid fairly and kept employed for as long as possible? What more can we do to ensure that they are as well placed as possible to find other work? What more can we do to ensure that the impact upon their family is minimised? The Christian employer will take the role of servant again at this point, seeking to serve the staff he or she is retrenching by actively pursuing ways to minimise the impact of the retrenchment.