Outplacement – you love or hate the word, or perhaps you’ve never heard of it? Outplacement is a programme, paid for by an employer who is implementing a redundancy programme, which supports the employees who are being displaced. It is a term familiar to HR professionals and possibly familiar to employees who have been through redundancy and were offered this form of support from their organisations.
It is normally provided by a third party consultancy and helps the individuals affected to transition out of that organisation into a new role elsewhere. Outplacement programmes can be delivered in person, one-to-one, in groups, virtually or online and normally a blend of all of these.
Basic programmes will typically cover the tactical knowledge that the individual needs in order to find a new role – for example CV and interview skills training. Good programmes will also provide emotional support through the transition, self-awareness and esteem building, the opportunity to explore new career paths and how to navigate networking and social media, to name a few.
Why invest in outplacement?
For me, there are two main reasons for investing in Outplacement programmes: external brand and internal brand. You need the former so that customers continue to buy your products and services and you need the latter in order to carry on delivering those products and services to the same level and expectation of your customers.
One of the most important “press releases” a company can have is how it handles the employee who leaves. We have all witnessed the bad press that comes with getting it wrong.
Who can forget UBS in 2012 when the bankers were informed of losing their jobs by… their security passes not working! And Jamie Oliver’s rambling missive in 2019 focusing more on his own emotions than how to support the 1,000 staff losing their jobs. Or a more recent 2019 example with the founder of WeWork announcing redundancies with trays of tequila and DMC from Run-DMC performing “It’s Tricky”.
The adverse impact of bad press not only affects the buying decisions of your clients and prospective clients but also how attractive you are to your prospective employees. We live in an age of radical transparency. Recent research by the job board, Indeed, states that 30% of applicants named online company reviews by current and former employees as one of the most important factors for deciding whether to take a job. In fact, it was in the top 3 factors that most applicants take into account.
What is your organisation’s current rating on Glassdoor? How would that be impacted by negative press surrounding redundancies?
There is also the impact of “word of mouth”. Even though employees may sign their severance agreements, they usually don’t feel happy to be let go, regardless of the circumstances. They’re angry. They’re also upset, embarrassed and confused. Who might they be talking to? Friends, family, colleagues in new organisations, social media followers: all in your audience of potential clients and employees.
Imagine the conversations: “They didn’t care; they just let us go; they offered us no support; I feel sorry for the people that had to stay.”
Now re-imagine those conversations from a more positive mindset: “I was sorry to leave but they offered us great support right up to securing a new role; I wouldn’t mind working there again in the future if the opportunity came up; they treat all of their people with respect; I changed career and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Another huge impact of getting redundancy wrong is the effect on those employees who remain in the organisation. These employees will be experiencing a range of emotions related to change and transition. They will be worried about their friends and colleagues that are leaving, concerned about the future of the organisation, wondering how their newly formed team will perform, unsure about their new line manager that they’ve never worked with before. All this at a time when you need them to be delivering business as usual to your customers.
This is a time to rebuild and refocus teams and re-motivate individuals. It’s a time to support leaders in leading through change and transition. If employees think that their friends and colleagues have been treated unfairly, this will have a majorly negative impact on their engagement and ability to perform.
Investing in your exiting employees sends a strong message to those left behind in the business: “We care about you from beginning to end.” It builds esprit de corps with your current workforce and shows how you respond to something negative in a positive way.
One HR manager told me, “These people still have friends here, and they will need them as references. I know those who signed our severance agreed not to sue us, but they talk to others, and I want them to speak positively about the way we treated them. It will come back to us.”
Getting it right
I have lots of advice for getting it right which I have shared over the years. However, I can now point you to a stellar example of a leader getting the communication spot on. I am, of course, talking about Brian Chesky at Airbnb. His message, which I share below, was really human. He sugar coated nothing, explaining the very real problems facing the business and how they had approached difficult selection decisions. Above all, he was true to the mission and he spoke both to employees staying – about how to honour those leaving – and to those leaving: “know this is not your fault”.
Career Coach Alison Hughes works with individuals to support them in creating a career they love.
“Alison combines fantastic core coaching techniques and methodologies, with a real kindness and warmth.” “Ali is a versatile and challenging coach, who helped me to understand how I was getting in my own way, and set clear action steps to overcome it.”
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Warm, supportive and kindly challenging executive career and leadership coach.