Even during times of economic boom, layoffs happen. Often, as corporations are reporting higher profits, they may be simultaneously reducing specific business units or retiring old product lines. For example, major employers, including Walmart, Intel, and Bank of America cut 17,500, 12,000, and 8,000 jobs respectively last year. While these brands continue to prosper, grow, and hire, they’re also cutting jobs to stay competitive and profitable.

Partly because layoffs have become so commonplace and partly as a way to protect the brand and save costs associated with layoffs, the majority of organizations now offer outplacement to at least some of their employees.

Surprisingly, executives estimate that about 40% of employees who receive outplacement never use the services, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although outplacement services are paid for by the employer and offered free of charge to employees, too many eligible employees are passing on the opportunities available through outplacement services and exposing the brands who provide them to the same negative consequences they’re trying to avoid. If companies hope to get the benefits derived from outplacement, they need to have a way to increase employee participation and measure results against investment.

To make the most of outplacement services and ensure employees remain engaged throughout the process, organizations should avoid four common pitfalls, including:

  1. Failure to measure and track the effectiveness of outplacement
  2. Providing outplacement services that don’t match employee needs
  3. Poor technology and accessibility for outplacement services
  4. Forgetting to address the needs of remaining employees

#1 Measure and Track

When it comes to outplacement, data has always been somewhat of an afterthought or difficult to attain. The lack of actionable data and the difficulty of analyzing the data that’s been made available has made setting KPIs for outplacement and redeployment programs nearly impossible. Contemporary outplacement solutions now make information about exiting employee experiences available in easy to use and view dashboards that provide instant results and actionable data. Now, organizations have the insights they need to make strategic business decisions moving forward and the data they need to prove ROI on outplacement services.

As HR professionals look around to their counterparts in other departments, they’re realizing the importance of data on the decision making and planning process. Most HR professionals are savvy enough to realize that by effectively collecting and analyzing data for every phase of employment, including information about exiting employees, they can make smarter decisions about every phase of the human management lifecycle.

When gathering data around human capital, it’s important to include metrics from outplacement and alumni sentiment for two reasons:

  1. Data collected before, during, and after an employee leaves your company can point to big internal trends across your organization.
  2. Outplacement data provides insights into how your employer brand is perceived now and can alert you to possible negative sentiment in its formational stages.

Offering outplacement is key to protecting your employer brand during layoff or restructuring events, yet offering outplacement that doesn’t meet the needs of individual employees will not improve their impression of your company. If your employees are left to languish in the ranks of the unemployed for longer than necessary, you have neither decreased your costs nor protected your brand.

In fact, positive employer brand perceptions alone can increase stock prices by 36% and brand perception has been proven to help with recruitment and retention. Given the importance of brand on the overall health of a company, it’s important to get a sense of how outplacement programs contribute to brand perception. Once you measure the effectiveness of outplacement and the sentiment shared by former employees, you can compare your outplacement results with industry benchmarks to determine effectiveness.

#2 Personalized coaching and services

According to management and organization development consultant Susan M. Healthfield, “The majority of complaints about outplacement seem to revolve around a lack of individual attention and time from career coaches and the quality of the advice, assistance, and application materials.”

The quality of services offered through traditional outplacement may be one reason why so many exiting employees choose to forgo participation in company-sponsored outplacement services. To ensure that more employees take advantage of outplacement, companies should look for outplacement providers who offer services tailored to individuals instead of group sessions and boilerplate solutions.

When comparing outplacement services, consider these two critical factors that affect employee satisfaction:

  1. Career coaching: This is a critical services element which can have a huge effect on the ultimate outcome and sentiment for the employee. Traditionally, employees are provided some group counseling sessions at offices managed by the outplacement provider. Due to the impersonal and boilerplate nature of these coaching sessions, participants often leave feeling like the information didn’t address their personal situation or needs and never return for additional sessions.

    Outplacement services that offer one-on-one coaching to every employee, regardless of level within their organization can have a profound impact on job search success. One-on-one coaching positively impacts the individual self-esteem and self-confidence employees need to quickly move to their next role successfully. Important to note, coaching should not be limited to a certain number of sessions or over a certain period of time, but should be available at intervals and times determined by the participants themselves. Flexibility and individualization are key factors in determining whether or not employees will engage in outplacement services over time.
  2. Level of personalization: To be truly personalized, services must be matched to individual needs, preferences, and objectives. To achieve this, outplacement firms should provide coaches that are experts at personal brand building techniques, including online and social media. These individuals must be able to tailor their approaches to branding and the use of social media networks to the individual job seeker and offer advice and support to employ the appropriate strategies based on the participant’s own goals.

Similarly, networking guidance should be given based on the individual’s comfort levels and prior experiences and delivered by coaches who stay current with the latest trends. Solutions that include technology components should also be sensitive to the various comfort levels of participants and offer whatever level of hand-holding is necessary for every participant to take full advantage of every aspect of the services offered through technology.

#3 Innovative technology to meet employee needs

Traditional outplacement services offered by some of the largest outplacement providers have not changed significantly since their founding. While they may offer access to some job boards or online templates for creating resumes and cover letters, most have not made an on-going investment in technology. Meanwhile, the job search landscape has changed along with how and where people work.

Engaging employees in an outplacement solution means that the solution itself must mirror how people are currently seeking jobs and accessing information. Employing a solution which uses advanced technology, such as semantic matching technology, and online resources increases the probability that job seekers will not only discover what they’re looking for, they’ll find it faster.

Advanced outplacement technology solutions improve the experience for the job seeker as well as for the employer. Solving the problems of personalized, targeted programs for the job seeker and the challenges of gathering and analyzing data for the employer simultaneously.

Companies should not overlook the ability of job seekers to access outplacement technology and resources through their mobile devices. As mobile use continues to outpace the use of desktop devices for job seeking and information gathering activities, so should the outplacement solution allow for mobile use and flexible access to all services.

#4 Focus on remaining employees

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Jennifer Deal summarizes her research that debunks conventional wisdom about Millennials and their tendency to job-hop. According to Deal, Millennials want job security a lot more than people think they do and it scares them when they don’t have it. Deal outlined why layoffs and job security are common stressers for today’s workers. When mass layoffs occur, the natural reactions across the remaining workforce are to feel fear and distrust. However, when employees observe that exiting employees are given useful tools and relevant counseling and landing new jobs quickly, they establish trust with their employer.

An important side effect of offering quality outplacement programs that provide the services and tools transitioning employees need to land quickly, is the effect these programs have on remaining employees. Instead of worrying about their former colleagues or spending their time preparing to be the next to go, surviving employees in organizations that offer outplacement tend to stay more engaged and productive than those whose organizations did not offer outplacement. When the effects of corporate downsizing or restructuring is minimized by career coaching, expert resume writing, and personalized job search services and technology, individual workers are more likely to remain optimistic.

In her article, Healthfield explains why employers should focus on motivating employees who remain after a layoff. Taking this extra step will, according to Healthfield, “…aid in recovery; fuel productivity; boost morale, despite the loss; and minimize the damage to workplace trust.”

Good outplacement providers know the importance of communication and training for surviving employees and provide services after the layoff for those left behind. It’s normal to want to just forget a layoff ever happened and move on with the daily routine. But it’s not possible. Make sure your outplacement package includes services for remaining employees to ensure downsizing survivors know how to regain their sense of trust and move on toward the productivity your organization needs to reach the goals and realize the benefits of the downsizing event.

While offering outplacement services is becoming more commonplace, brands are faced with the difficulty of getting their employees to engage in the services and getting the data they need to prove ROI on their investments. And while the price of outplacement doesn’t come close to the potential cost of poor brand perception, disgruntled employees, and low productivity as a result of low morale, the investment only shows returns when the services actually meet the needs of the employees it serves. Providing outplacement services demonstrates to current and former employees that the company values them and cares about their futures. Avoid the pitfalls of poor outplacement services and keep employees engaged throughout the process. When outplacement is properly executed and measured and exiting employees are given relevant, personalized coaching and quality feedback, they can land a job 60 percent faster than the national average.

24 January 2017

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