One of my most emotional and painful experiences as an HR professional was the first time I was involved in a large layoff and restructure at my company. I entered that meeting room with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as we announced to a staff of more than 100 at this particular facility that their positions were being eliminated due to restructuring. I was a relative newbie to the roadblocks our team might encounter after communicating this business announcement. I was not fully prepared for the questions, emotions, or reactions of not only the employees impacted but also their team members who would remain at the facility. I vowed that the next time I had to make a decision like this I would work with an outplacement service company.

It wasn’t just about having the answers to impacted employees’ questions and assisting them with their transition to a different organization. In this day and age with everything posted, shared, and blogged about, a company should not only be concerned about the displaced employees and their co-workers who remain, but also how a reduction in force or reorganization will impact a company’s employment brand and ongoing recruiting efforts and strategy.

It’s those back channel conversations, comments, and whispers now shared online that can certainly damage the outward-facing culture and brand of a company. An employment brand is defined as a way your organization’s prospective applicants, candidates, and employees perceive and interact with your company as an employer.

We know that employees’ perceptions of employer brand (and how they communicate those perceptions with others) can affect our recruitment and hiring efforts down the line. This is why it is so important that we take the time to conduct employee surveys, speak with employees, and focus our time on creating an organization committed to open doors.

If the doors at our organizations aren’t open, our employee population will go somewhere else to talk about their concerns, issues, and challenges at your offices. And, these days, it’s almost certainly happening online.There are potentially millions of places employees can talk about their experience working at your organization. Some are social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Some are workplace review sites like Glassdoor, forums on Indeed, or other company specific websites created by employees and former employees to privately share their experiences about your organization. Not to mention union websites (or social channels, including mobile texting, blogs, and forums, created to establish a foothold at your organization if your goal is to be union free).

Employment branding is not about creating roadblocks for employees who are compelled to share their negative experiences. Employment branding is based on how your past, current, and future employees view and talk about your organization. If you are an organization committed to creating a positive culture focused on employee engagement, workplace communication, development, and transparency, then you have almost nothing to fear about what employees might say about your company.

Company restructuring, downsizing, and layoffs are planned events, and organizations are aware of how a change, such as a job loss, and on a large scale, can impact not only the displaced employees and their families, but also every single employee in the organization.These planned decisions are for the benefit of the business as a whole. Many employees accept that, but what can really make a difference in an employee’s acceptance and understanding of such a change is how you share information about the event and how you demonstrate that you will support each employee (impacted or not) going forward.

This is where outplacement services can positively benefit your organization during such a business decision, especially because of its potential impact on employee engagement, acceptance, and success both within and outside of the organization.These benefits are hard to see and understand until you have been through a reduction in force gone wrong, but I can tell you that a RIF done right—that is, with the support of experts--can strengthen your employment branding and minimize the negative impact to your company.


Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is an author, speaker, HR professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the President/CEO of Xceptional HR and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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