Layoffs peaked in our country in 2009, but employers continue to use layoffs to address a negative bottom line, cut costs by outsourcing services, or restructure departments or services based on the changing marketplace.
When a layoff is necessary, whether it involves one person or many, employers may offer outplacement services outsourced to professionals skilled in career transitions to help those who have lost their jobs transition to new ones. While employers are under no legal obligation to offer this assistance, many see it as an ethical decision. It’s estimated that 70% of employers offer outplacement services.
Outplacement services not only help the employee set a positive focus and establish a new career direction after a difficult departure, but they have also been proven to shift a negative backlash or mitigate the risk of a lawsuit.
Requests for outplacement services from Heart At Work Associates have increased dramatically in the past three years. You might think that this is a negative sign for Maine’s workforce, but actually, Maine’s unemployment rate is low at 4.7% and with our rapidly aging population, employers are facing a talent shortage in the years ahead.
Thankfully, best practices in outplacement services have evolved and become more compassionate and effective than in years past. They no longer involve rows of temporary offices where laid off workers somberly conduct job searches under the guidance of job coaches, or worse yet, feature professionals who travel the country callously firing people from firm to firm, as portrayed by George Clooney in the popular movie “Up in the Air”.
In order for outplacement services (OP) to serve their intended purpose to expedite a successful transition for employees leaving the organization, employers are encouraged to incorporate current best practices in OP that we’ve found to be beneficial for all:
- Involve the OP professionals in conversations with senior leadership early on in the process of planning the layoff. Often we hear from clients that they felt the leadership was out of touch with how the layoff was executed—and in some cases, this is accurate. Avoid contacting the OP provider at the “last minute” before the layoff is announced. It’s difficult to plan a meaningful program that meets everyone’s needs under a time pressure.
- Encourage awareness of and participation in OP services by inviting the OP professionals to be on site the day of the layoff announcement. While it is true that people who have just lost their jobs may not have the capacity to take in much information, they would benefit, nonetheless, from meeting their OP providers in person for reassurance.
- Consider a range of OP services from group workshops to individual career counseling sessions. It can be cost effective if the layoff involves several people, to include small group interactive workshops on key job search strategies as part of the offering.
- Carefully consider how OP services are explained to employees. Only 40% of people offered OP actually take advantage of it. This is because they either don’t understand the service or its benefits, are not encouraged by their employer to participate, or they do not receive any follow up communication from the OP provider and lose interest.
- Clearly identify and communicate verbally and in writing the specifics (how and by what date to make contact) and the benefits of the outplacement services offered. Include a personalized letter from the OP provider.
- Stay current with your OP providers and ask about their new offerings as well as who on the team actually provides the services. Just as you bring innovation and best practices to your organization, OP providers should be keeping up with marketplace changes and adding value to the OP services they offer.