workforce changes

We have all seen fire extinguishers encased in glass panels with the words, ‘In case of emergency, break glass.’ It may not be a comforting thought to be reminded of the possibility of a fire, but we all the value the existence of the extinguisher because we know it can save property and perhaps lives.

In the same way, a reduction in force – or layoff – is painful for employees and organizations alike, even more so now. While this is not a topic most want to think about, the reality of the economic fallout from the pandemic requires that business leaders consider an exit plan, even if they may not use it. How will you take care of employees whom you may have to let go? As we all know, the best time to have a plan in place is before we need it.

While economic numbers fluctuate with the opening and closing of the economy in various geographies, the reality is that higher unemployment will be a fact of life for some time, even when the pandemic wanes and the economy recovers. Today, hundreds or thousands of people are being laid off from organizations in hard-hit industries and even from companies in lesser impacted sectors that have run out of other options and are feeling the effects of the continuing economic downturn. The staggering number of unemployment claims is testament to the pain that so many feel.

Providing outplacement services to displaced employees to help them find other work can help ease the pain of job loss, especially now. Given this, let’s look at why outplacement makes sense for employers and how it helps employees.

employer reputation is on the line

In the past decade, the employee experience has become central to many organizational cultures. In 2019, the Business Roundtable redefined corporate responsibility to include employer responsibility. As the chairman and CEO of the Business Roundtable, Jamie Dimon acknowledged, ‘Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term.’ It makes sense that investing in employees should extend to all stages of their journey, including their treatment upon departure from the organization.

Providing employees with as robust an exit package as possible including outplacement services reflects the values you hold as a company. Employees, both those departing and those remaining, will remember how you treat them. When Airbnb announced that it was letting go of employees, CEO Brian Chesky authentically and transparently conveyed the company’s decision-making process and values. In an open letter to employees, he expressed the difficulty of the decision and the high regard he had for employees. He backed his words with an explanation of the outplacement services and severance benefits being offered. The values he demonstrated and the goodwill he generated will likely affect Airbnb’s brand positively for years to come. Transparency and clear, honest communication are key hallmarks of how compassionate companies that put employees first are handling necessary reductions in these challenging times.

Properly caring for employees during a layoff also reflects on a company’s brand among remaining employees, helping to maintain morale and productivity. In the longer term, as the economy recovers and finding top talent becomes a renewed focus, companies that have demonstrated care for their workforces will be viewed as employers of choice and will have an easier time acquiring talent. In these ways, outplacement is an investment in both your remaining and future employees.

Given the power of social media and the popularity of sites like Glassdoor, an employer that does not consistently demonstrate a caring employee culture is at greater risk of negative ratings and social media comments from former and current employees that can impact the company long after it has turned the corner on culture.

departing employees need assistance

In a fiercely competitive hiring environment, employees need to take advantage of the latest job search techniques, showcase their skills and capabilities properly, be exposed to creative employment options such as entrepreneurship and the gig economy as well as have access to traditional job opportunities for which they are a strong match.

The current environment is even more complex because unemployed workers may have to change industries, requiring them to understand and highlight how their transferrable skills can be applied to a new role or sector. They may have to consider adjacent roles and take courses to upgrade their current skills or learn new ones. With many job openings being filled remotely, job seekers must also learn how to network and interview for jobs virtually. Given that a greater number of people are now able to work remotely, those looking for work need to be attuned to potential opportunities in other geographic areas. These new realities require a set of job search skills that many people may not have.

what effective outplacement looks like

Whether you’re providing outplacement internally or working with an outplacement services partner, include the following elements to set your impacted employees up for success:

  • professional career transition coaching that helps individuals assess their skills and career interests; identify the best opportunities in the job market for their unique skills, experience and passions; develop a search strategy; learn interview techniques, in part by engaging in mock interviews; gain guidance around salary negotiations; and receive ongoing support and encouragement along the way
  • an updated, professionally written and keyword-optimized resume and social media profiles that convey a consistent, professional brand
  • networking and job opportunities that are highly matched to the individual’s skills, experiences and interests
  • the capacity to connect to jobs through participation in talent directories, virtual job fairs and access to recruiters
  • highly matched and relevant job leads that reflect an individual’s skills, experiences and career interests
  • resources and tools such as assessments, videos, tip sheets, podcasts, webinars and workshops that enable exiting employees to learn job search best practices and make the most of their outreach activities
  • access to reskilling and upskilling courses and other experiential learning opportunities, along with and assistance in developing a learning plan and staying on track

In today’s socially distanced economy, these services need to have the capabilities to be delivered virtually, not just in person.

Through this kind of robust outplacement, departing employees are much more likely to land their next role sooner than if left on their own. The bonus for the company is that the sooner laid-off employees find new roles, the lower the organization’s unemployment and severance costs and the better that employee will perceive their former organization. 

preparing for a layoff

As an HR leader, you may be new to layoffs given the low unemployment rates in recent years. Even if you’ve managed reductions in force (RIFs) in the past, the landscape and best practices for them have changed as organizations have become more focused on the employee experience. How you manage and communicate layoffs to employees can impact your organization’s brand and reputation for years to come.

Start by assembling a team that will manage the layoff process from start to finish. This team will help you maintain compliance, reduce the risk of legal repercussions as a result of layoffs, ensure all necessary documentation is prepared and develop an effective communications strategy ideally putting the employee first in planning for each.

When communicating layoffs, do so with compassion and transparency. A layoff is an incredibly stressful life event and employees are also dealing with the added stress of a global pandemic, so it’s important to take this into consideration as you prepare talking points. Empathetic, transparent communications with help you build trust with departing and remaining employees, which will help ensure those that are staying in your organization remain committed and engaged and reflect positively on your organization’s brand.

A key piece of any layoff communications strategy is clearly explaining the benefits available to departing employees – such as severance pay, healthcare and access to a talent directory or alumni network, among others. If you’re offering outplacement through an outside provider, enlist your outplacement services partner to help explain what outplacement has to offer because many employees don’t understand what it is and, as a result, don’t take full advantage of it. By empowering your impacted employees to take advantage of all the benefits available to them, you can help them land their next role sooner, which is beneficial to both the employees and your organization.

The planning before, during and after a layoff is detailed and complex. Rather than managing the process on your own, outplacement services companies like RiseSmart provide planning assistance and best practices to help employers facing a workforce reduction prepare for and manage employee notifications. 

lindsay witcher.

vice president of global practice strategy

15 September 2020

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