If your company is experiencing a reduction in force (a.k.a. layoff) and you're providing employees with outplacement services, then you've done so for a number of very healthy and caring reasons:
- To help your soon-to-be former employees work through their career transitions more successfully.
- To jump-start their job search efforts by affording them the benefit of experienced career consultants who can short-cut their job search time.
- To expose them to a resourceful team of career coaches who have local networks of contacts and deep-dive information on the local economy and hot companies.
But how do you ensure that you're getting the most out of your outplacement firm's offerings? And what should you report back to your senior leadership team about the concrete benefits that your departing workers received—which are your return on investment for the outplacement firm's costs?
"First, understand that approximately 70 percent of companies offer outplacement benefits in their severance packages to workers impacted by a layoff," said Doug Mathews, president and CEO of Career Partners International, one of the nation's largest global outplacement firms and headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. "That means that if you're offering this critical benefit, you're with the majority in demonstrating true care and concern for your employees' well-being and career success once they're no longer with your company. The disruptive and destabilizing forces impacting the economy likely won't go away soon, so this benefit becomes all the more significant, especially for executive and professional employees."
Onsite Notice Support
The first touch point where outplacement career coaches provide in-person support is at the notice meeting. Insist that your outplacement provider is available onsite for the notice session. Employees are typically informed of their position elimination in one room and then can move on to meet with the outplacement counselor immediately afterwards in an adjoining office. This helps take the sting off the initial notice because of the human contact and go-forward hope that the counselor will likely instill in the individual after the notice meeting.
"After all, it is one thing to find out that your position's just been eliminated," said Chris Bryant, president and CEO of the San Diego Employers Association. "It's another thing to find someone immediately available who can commit to helping you find work with another company quickly and who has the resources to help you through the transition well."
In fact, you should be able to gather statistics when vetting outplacement service providers as to average placement time, customer satisfaction rating (i.e., net promoter score), and the percentage of employees that landed in higher level or lateral positions.
Facilitating an Easy Connection to Your Employees
Some workers may not be emotionally ready to get much out of the initial meeting with the outplacement counselor because they're in shock after learning of their position elimination. Ensure that the initial contact is made whenever possible, but allow workers their own time to come to terms with their changed situation.
"If they've met the outplacement counselor initially, it will be easier for them to reach out a few days later or at least make them more responsive to the counselor's call," Bryant said. "After all, the shock of the separation notice is one thing; moving forward with their careers in a healthy and positive way is another."
Give your outplacement provider a contact list of those employees who were notified so that—at the employee's preference—the career transition program can begin. Note, however, that some employers are concerned about legal privacy issues when sharing worker contact information with outplacement providers.
"There's little need for concern about providing employee contact information to an outplacement firm, as long as the company gets the employees' approval to share their contact information," said Rich Falcone (no relation to the author), shareholder and senior employment litigation partner with Littler Mendelson in Costa Mesa, Calif. Names, phone numbers, and email addresses may constitute protected information in certain jurisdictions, so get approval in advance to share contact information.
"This approach works well internationally too, so it shouldn't breach EU safe harbor guidelines or other international privacy regulations if you have the employees' advance permission," Falcone said. After all, most employees would agree to allow their email address or cell phone number to be shared with an outplacement firm if they realized it could mean landing a new job that much faster.
Your outplacement provider should be able to share incremental updates with you about employee participation rates. For example, you, the sponsoring employer, have every right to know how many of your ex-employees have engaged the outplacement firm's services and begun their program. Your outplacement provider will also be able to confirm for you how many employees are opting to pursue specialty programs that are typically available beyond traditional re-employment services: transition into retirement, the entrepreneurship route and return to school, for example. Insist initially on daily contact for the first five days. Shift to weekly contact for the first month, followed by monthly reports thereafter.
Further, you have the right to expect person-by-person feedback beyond the broader employee participation rates mentioned above. Engage the services of your HR team to reach out to any workers who haven't yet responded to the outplacement counselor's outreach efforts. Gently encourage them to hold at least an initial meeting with a counselor.
"In many cases, workers don't understand or appreciate the vast resources that the outplacement firm possesses to help them land a new position more quickly than they otherwise could on their own. A light-touch phone call to explain why it's in their best interests to take advantage of this company-paid benefit may be all it takes to generate an initial meeting with the counselor," Bryant said.
Outplacement services today offer much more than traditional resume-writing support and interview role-plays: Building social media campaigns, especially surrounding LinkedIn, for example, will statistically garner much stronger job search results, depending on the type of work the employee does. Electronic tools that help match an individual's resume to a particular job posting using word cloud technology can help a job applicant maximize the chances of getting selected for a particular interview. Proprietary tools that develop resumes with built-in social media integration by matching keywords and skills graphs with postings found on Indeed.com can jumpstart someone's job search before they've even posted their first resume. And as a job applicant, telling an interviewer that you took full advantage of your prior company's outplacement services will help you stand out among your peers because it speaks to the caliber of the company you worked for and your wisdom in approaching your job search in such a healthy and mature way.
If you're a wise and caring employer that offers outplacement services to your displaced workers, making sure that your former employees benefit from this cost-effective benefit will not only help you maintain positive relations with them, but it will likewise go a long way in strengthening your relationship with your remaining employees who can move forward in a healthy way, knowing that your organization had to make tough business decisions but kept people's needs at the forefront of their considerations. That provides a critical degree of relief in today's volatile workplace as well as a return on investment that goes far beyond dollars and cents.