What does social responsibility look like for your organization? If your company is like most businesses, you have instituted or considered social responsibility initiatives that may include, environmental impact, human rights, and sustainability. If you’re limiting your definition of social responsibility to these broader, world view issues, your company may be missing out on opportunities to show your commitment to social responsibility at a local level and to demonstrate your commitment to your employees and the communities in which they live.

How your organization chooses to serve the employees it transitions from the company during times of corporate restructuring or resizing has an impact on more than just the transitioning employee. Obviously, loss of income can have mild to devastating effects on employees' families, but it also has an impact on the communities in which they live. While many companies say they are socially responsible, a majority of companies say they’re handling outplacement poorly, leaving room to easily improve corporate social responsibility initiatives.

What social responsibility initiates do you have?

As part of an annual HR survey, Sierra-Cedar asked organizations to rate how well their organizations addressed social responsibility initiatives over the last 12 months. Initiatives listed include, highly regulated responsibilities such as diversity, healthcare, paid family leave, and retirement planning, as well as mildly regulated responsibilities like employee assistance programs, wellness, and flex schedules. The survey also included non-regulated initiatives like community volunteer programs, tuition assistance, outplacement services, and employee engagement.

The results showed that 44% of organizations believe they do an average, poor, or terrible job at handling outplacement and only a handful of organizations (8%) say they do an excellent job. Organizations may realize they have a moral obligation to act for the benefit of society at large, but how many are missing an opportunity when it comes to supporting employees throughout the lifespan of their job? 

BusinessNewsDaily identified four categories of social responsibility that today’s leading businesses engage in: environmental efforts, philanthropy, volunteering, and ethical labor practices. The most socially responsible businesses are practicing a combination of all four. But as the Sierra-Cedar study pointed out, some organizations may be falling short when it comes to treating employees fairly and ethically.

Outplacement services improve social responsibility

Given the changing landscape of the retail, banking, and technology sectors, layoffs are inevitable. Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research, told Fortune that he expects job cuts to continue to “rise drastically as more companies subscribe to ‘super cloud’ services from the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp.” Chowdhry predicts that super cloud services will manage hardware, software, networks, and databases, ultimately eliminating the need for workers to manage various technology layers.

Predictions like these illuminate the need for companies to focus more closely on their severance offerings, especially during layoffs. As layoffs occur, organizations without a contingency plan for severance and outplacement services are missing an opportunity for social responsibility. The predictions for greater numbers of layoff in the future magnify this gap in services and the need for action by employers. Organizations who claim to treat employees like family but fail to offer severance, redeployment, and outplacement services to displaced employees are not living up to their promises and may suffer the consequences of poor brand perception in the future.

In her recent blog post, “The Layoffs are Coming,” innovation and “growth hacking” consultant Lockie Andrews outlined what it takes for organizations to “be human” in the midst of a mass layoff. The most socially responsible companies offer severance packages based on tenure, redeploy employees by offering new opportunities within the organization, and provide outplacement services to help with the job search for positions outside of the company.

According to Andrews, “giving people bad news is an art.” Organizations focused on social responsibility should invest in adequate training to ensure executives and HR personnel can handle the situation with respect and compassion.  “Being human,” even when facing mass layoffs, will create a positive image of the company amongst current and former employees and their social and local communities. Offering outplacement helps companies to avoid dragging the layoff process out unnecessarily and affords them an opportunity to act on their core values.

Outplacement services help people and communities

Shortly following the financial crisis of 2008, Time Magazine told the story of mass layoffs at the Eaton Manufacturing plant in Roxboro, North Carolina. The article outlined the ripple effect of a single layoff. A single lost job, according to the author, Massimo Calabresi, “becomes infectious, combining with others and spreading through family, neighborhood, and community.” When workers lose their jobs, they have less to spend, so nearby businesses also take a hit. This pattern spirals and can take down entire communities if new jobs are non-existent or employees aren't finding jobs they're qualified to do.

Since 2008, the opportunities to work outside your immediate geographic area have increased. The growing influence of technology and the increased number of employees working remotely have opened up opportunities that may not have been available just a few years ago.

For many people, the challenges of landing jobs outside of their communities or those with titles different from their previous job include discovering appropriate job opportunities and matching open positions to their skills and professional goals. Outplacement firms that use technology with job matching capabilities are able to easily identify those opportunities for workers and get individuals back to work quickly.

Even when working remotely isn’t an option, jobs may be available within a reasonable commuting distance for employees. Identifying and successfully applying for those positions means employees need updated resumes and help with networking outside of their immediate area. Outplacement can help get these employees the tools and services they need to land their next job and reduce the economic impact on their communities.

Outplacement improves lives

Offering outplacement is key to protecting your employer brand during layoffs and sends a signal to past, current, and future employees that you care about their well-being. Organizations that don’t offer outplacement as part of their severance packages might find employees languishing in the ranks of the unemployed for longer than necessary.

Being unemployed is particularly troublesome when you are the main breadwinner for your family. Family outings and plans are disrupted and children’s activities may have to be suspended to save money. Since many families now live with a limited savings, extended unemployment can mean loss of residence and other devastating consequences. Yet, according to the Sierra-Cedar survey, few companies are making sure employees are re-employed quickly through contemporary outplacement services.

One explanation for the lack of outplacement services might be that among the social responsibility initiatives offered by employers, outplacement is one of the few not regulated, along with community and employee engagement programs. The growing emphasis on workplace culture and employee engagement will most likely change these statistics in the near future as companies realize the importance of taking care of employees throughout their careers and the need to create engaging workplaces to stay completitive. While many companies are thinking globally, acting locally will allow organizations to have impact in regions where they have a presence.

Currently, organizations are motivated to handle regulated social responsibility initiates such as diversity and inclusion and health care. The study showed that these highly regulated initiatives were the least likely to be handled poorly and those that are the least regulated are also the most poorly addressed. While the findings are not surprising, it is interesting that more companies are not opting into social responsibility initiatives that improve employees lives without being told they have to.

No matter how your organization is currently approaching social responsibility, caring for employees throughout their careers can have a big impact on how your company is viewed by the outside world. Future employees and vendors will continue to seek out companies that are doing the right thing for the planet and the people on it. Outplacement provides individuals with the tools and resources to remain contributors to their families and the communities in which they live. Outplacement might be the next big local social responsibility initiative your company adds to its offerings. If it is, let us know. We'll help you get the information and expertise you need.

31 January 2017

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