Outplacement: Then and Now (part 3)
[Last of three parts.]
The average length of time a laid-off worker remains unemployed, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, is about six months. For HR managers, this means you should make sure that the outplacement service you provide gives access to the participants for at least that long.
It can be heartbreaking to come to rely on a service to guide job seekers through the sometimes difficult job search process, only to have it cut off halfway through.
According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal article, one of the complaints participants in outplacement had was that they didn’t get enough time with a transition specialist to really learn anything of value. Some companies limit the number of hours a client can spend with a transition specialist, and others offer unlimited phone calls, emails, and consultations.
For some job seekers, that level of support is tremendously important. If someone has found themselves laid off after ten or twenty years, he or she will not be prepared for the whirlwind of social media, Skype interviews, job sites and recruiters that have come to dominate the job search world.
Contact with a specialist, in cases like this, is a lifeline, and job seekers have called the specialists the single most important factor to their job hunting success.
Companies lay off employees at all different levels—from front line managers and executives to entry level staff. It isn’t necessary to offer the same level of service to different levels of employee.
So make sure you get a good idea what sort of services are available to each level—they come at different price points, so you won’t waste money on services a transitioning employee doesn’t need, and you can be sure you offer enough support to an employee who needs more, such as a high-visibility executive who might require personal branding and public persona support.
Individualization is the key—both you and the outplacement firm should understand that the success or failure of an outplacement program is wholly dependent upon the flexibility of both parties and the mutual understanding that one size never fits all.
Do your homework when checking out an outplacement solution. Organizations should choose a provider with a proven track record of success. Can you see samples of some of the content the outplacement service provides to its clients? Can you see testimonials from former job seekers? In other words, does the outplacement service practice what it preaches?
A word about references: don’t be surprised if an outplacement company’s website isn’t bursting with glowing corporate references. HR has always been a confidential business, and most organizations are not ready to advertise they’ve had layoffs. However, don’t be afraid to ask. You should be able to get a list of impressive corporate names to call who’ll be more than happy to reference the outsourcing firm to you privately.
When it comes to measuring the success of an outplacement program, make sure you choose a provider that gives your organization absolute transparency into every phase of the process. Understand, however, that because of HR privacy laws, it is not possible for the outplacement company to provide specific information about any individual employee in your program who has specifically indicated that he or she does not want personal information shared.
For the vast majority of employees in the program, you should be able to get individual track records and results. Look for a company that provides this information in an easy-to-access, easy to use software-as-a-service (SaaS) based platform, so you and your HR staff can generate ROI reports on the fly.
Return on Investment
Perhaps the most important reason no one should contract with an outplacement firm out of guilt is the return on investment to the organization. It’s simply good business to save money, prevent the loss of needed employees, and to protect the corporate brand.
When outplacement was first conceived, nobody thought about these benefits. Yet today, outplacement is by no means altruistic or a form of guilt relief. An organization can draw significant ROI from the right outplacement solution. Helping laid-off employees find new jobs faster takes them off of unemployment insurance sooner, and your unemployment taxes can significantly decrease.
Following a layoff, it stands to reason that your corporate image and your employment branding might suffer a blow. You’ve probably invested a lot of time and money into building that brand, so it makes sense to protect it. The right outplacement company will take on your concern about loss of productivity from remaining employees, or worse, defections to the competition, and about how to protect your brand in the marketplace.
In this age of social media, news and opinions about a layoff can circle the globe in seconds, and without a defense plan, you’re powerless to stop it.
Outplacement firms are not a PR agency, and they’re not there to put a spin on your organization’s bad news. However, if you proactively take steps to show the world that you care enough about former employees to provide them a leg up to their next job, that news will get out, too, without the aid of public relations professionals.
Providing outplacement shows the world that you’re a good corporate citizen—and that goes very far when economic times improve and you find yourself once again competing for candidates.
It’s easy to see that outplacement has come a long way. Once an ineffective agency designed to assuage corporate guilt when layoffs were stigmatic, it’s now a vital engine that keeps the economy moving, matches employees with the right jobs, saves organizations millions of dollars in taxes, attrition, and employee relations, and preserves your corporate persona in an era when an otherwise simple business decision can spiral into a public relations nightmare.
There’s certainly no reason to partner with an outplacement solution company out of a sense of guilt. Now that sophisticated technology and expertise has made it a relevant, powerful employment benefit, it’s a decision you can feel good about making.