Even in a strong economy with low unemployment, thousands of companies must make the difficult decision to reduce their workforce. In the past few months, major manufacturers, large communications companies, prominent media outlets and global technology giants have announced workforce reductions. Layoffs are part of the business cycle — an adjustment companies must make.
For the affected employees and their coworkers, a reduction in force can be a traumatic event, but it doesn’t have to be. Much depends on how the company handles the layoff. HR professionals play a crucial role in making sure workforce reductions are handled with sensitivity and skill. To manage a difficult situation effectively, HR managers must protect the company while serving as an employee advocate.
A new Employee Relationship Economy has risen from a monumental shift in the dynamics of today’s workforce. As such, organizations can no longer look at employee relationships as finite – with a set beginning and ending. Instead, in today’s economy, future, current, and former employees will become brand ambassadors, employee references, customers, recruiters, partners, and cheerleaders. Now, more than ever, companies must provide employees with the support they need to successfully create new beginnings to maintain positive relationships with those individuals who will continue to be influential to their business success.
Here are three tips for organizations hoping to effectively manage employee career transitions:
#1 Protect the company’s brand
HR professionals who are handling a reduction in their company’s workforce will be pulled in multiple directions. They’ll likely be putting in long hours while assessing the impact, ensuring regulatory compliance, addressing employee concerns, and answering questions from frontline managers. While these pressures can be significant, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the company brand must be protected throughout the process.
Keep in mind that a corporate restructuring doesn’t just affect employees. Customers, investors and even politicians and media representatives may be watching. Employees who are let go may move on to work for customers, competitors or vendors. Developing a restructuring plan that follows best practices for safeguarding the brand is therefore critical, and it should contain elements that address the communication and security aspects that are unavoidable during a reduction in force.
Since the conversations that take place on social media can have a significant effect on public sentiment, companies will want to establish a brand protection strategy that includes monitoring social media conversations about the company. Immediately following a reduction in force (RIF) or restructuring event, consider assigning someone to closely monitor social media channels and employer rating sites, such as Glassdoor, and to respond to any negative comments in a non-formulaic manner by providing unique responses for each commenter. Responses should be respectful and productive, offering help where appropriate as well as an opportunity to take the conversation offline to address specific concerns.
#2 Understand what employees need
When HR professionals are handling a layoff event, their focus is typically on the staff who are being let go – a myopathy that doesn’t account for the bigger picture. In fact, departing employees aren’t the only ones who will feel the impact on a reduction in force. Managers delivering the difficult news, remaining employees, and even vendors will feel the loss created by a lay off. To minimize the impact, HR leaders must ensure that managers in the affected departments fully understand their role and have all the tools they need to do their jobs during a critical time. Appropriate manager training will provide critical support while protecting the organization from legal action resulting from poorly delivered notice of separation.
Employees remaining at the company will also have unique needs, foremost among them, a hunger for information. Many might be worried about a future round of layoffs that will affect them. HR can alleviate these concerns by facilitating frequent, honest communication that reassures employees about the company’s strength and reinforces individual team members’ value to the company. Even before the lay-off, anticipate employee concerns by creating a communication strategy and messaging that can be implemented immediately after the event.
A Q&A session with the CEO can be an effective way to address the concerns of employees who are staying with the company. Involving the leadership team in conversations with employees will send the message that they are valued and that their contributions are important to the company’s future success. Too often, the lasting impression after a reduction in force or restructuring is event is that the future of the organization is at risk. HR professionals can become strategic partners with the C-Suite by creating opportunities to deliver a message of hope and future prosperity.
#3 Offer effective transition services
It’s better for everyone involved when laid off employees land on their feet quickly. Most HR departments don’t have the resources to effectively manage individual career transitions for each of their departing employees. Offering outside transition services will allow the internal HR professionals to focus on supporting affected managers and departments and creating the necessary documentation and messaging while ensuring that departing employees remain positive about the company.
Partnering with a contemporary career transition services company will give your departing employees the career coaching, professional branding, and job search assistance they’ll need to land a new job quickly. Employees have come to expect that companies will do right by them, and the best companies recognize the need to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to quickly transition to a new job and establish a new beginning. When selecting an outplacement and career transition solutions provider, compare solutions based on the following criteria:
- Personalization – does the provider offer a one-size-fits all solution for either employees or the company? Look for a company that offers tiered solutions that fit your company size and the range of job levels of your affected employees.
- Innovation – what technology is available and how is it used? Does the provider offer a way for the HR department to track the progress of transitioning employees and the sentiments of those employees once they have completed the program? Does the technology replace or supplement the services? Are employees given a mix of virtual content and job leads along with personalized coaching?
- Acceleration – How quickly are employees placed in jobs? How simple is the technology to use for both the employee and the HR department?
Reductions in the workforce are stressful for everyone, including the HR professionals charged with coordinating them. But with the right approach, the transition can go smoothly for affected employees, coworkers who are staying with the company, and all other stakeholders. HR leaders who protect their company’s brand, understand employee needs, and offer transition services can achieve a reduction in force that limits the negative impact for everyone involved.