Preparing for Layoffs in Good Economic Times
No matter the overall economic temperature or employment numbers, layoffs are a reality in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. Depending on your industry, layoffs may be more or less a part of your reality. Whether or not layoffs have been part of the landscape in the past, there are a few trends that hint toward an uptick in workforce reductions. These indicators will help signal whether or not your organization may be headed to workforce restructuring. For instance, trends toward more automation will impact 25% of jobs in the US, according to CNBC. Other factors that lead to layoffs include, changes in market behavior, redundancies caused by mergers and acquisitions, and outside economic forces. If you’re feeling the heat from any of these outside forces, you might want to consider getting prepared internally for a few talent changes.
Are layoffs coming?
Unless your company is already planning a reduction in force (RIF), you may not be able to answer this question with any certainty. As an HR leader, it’s incumbent upon you to make sure there are written plans in place that allow you and the organization to respond rapidly to the types of changes that have become part of the natural landscape of doing business. HR planning should include everything from hiring policies that enforce diversity and inclusion, programs that provide engaging onboarding programs, talent mobility and flexible workplace policies, to severance programs and guidelines for conducting a layoff.
If you still don’t have a formal policy for conducting a layoff, here are four critical elements that you’ll want to put in place before it’s necessary to begin restructuring the workforce:
- Guidelines to deliver consistent employee performance reviews
- Updated severance policies
- Effective layoff alternatives
- Business partnerships with experts
1. Consistent employee evaluations
Do you have mechanisms in place to evaluate employee performance consistently throughout the organization? If you don’t, there are many reasons to make this initiative your number one HR priority. In the event of a workforce restructuring you will, of course, begin by looking at redundant or unnecessary positions. Although the decision to layoff an employee should not be based on personal attributes or performance, you may have to make choices between individuals who hold the same position. When the decision must be made, you’ll want consistently documented performance discussions to help you and the executive team make the choice.
Understanding which skills and experiences will be required to meet future company goals will help you and the management team determine which individuals will better fit the remaining roles now and in the future. If you’re not eliminating all employees who hold a particular position, or similar positions, you’ll want something documented to support your decisions and avoid legal retribution.
When you start making choices of who to keep and who to let go, be sure you’re aware of your unconscious biases toward people in these federally protected classes:
- Religion or creed
- National origin or ancestry
- Physical or mental disability
- Veteran status
- Genetic information
2. Updated severance policies
Have you updated your severance policies to meet the needs of today’s workforce? Our recent survey of more than 1,500 HR professionals around the world found that fewer companies have formalized severance plans today than two years ago.
Could it be true that HR leaders have become complacent with the current world of work where attraction, recruiting, and retention are the focal points of organizations hoping to fill enough open positions to keep moving forward? In this hiring-focused market, it’s especially critical that companies make sure they have policies in place to take care of all employees impacted by business decisions that result in layoffs. After all, those employees go on to become the face of your organization on Glassdoor and other social media sites.
If you haven’t already, download RiseSmart’s Guide to Severance and Workforce Transition to benchmark your current severance policies or as a guide to creating a formalized, written plan that your organization can use as a starting point. Be sure to review your plans every year or two to make sure your policies are keeping up with the most recent trends. For instance, since the current average tenure of an employee is just over 4 years, employers may want to reconsider using tenure as a primary mechanism for determining severance benefits in order to remain competitive in a tight labor market.
Resources like RiseSmart’s guide which is published every two years, can help you to identify where adjustments can be made to help your company stay competitive and attract the best talent. We also share best practices for a variety of severance elements including eligibility, notification, calculation, and benefits as well as HR solutions and employer brand protections that HR leaders can put in place to mitigate the consequences that may follow involuntary employee separations.
3. Alternatives to layoffs
While some layoffs may be unavoidable, there are a few alternatives that help organizations save money while establishing a climate of talent mobility and retention—thereby safeguarding the employer brand. One such alternative is redeployment—sometimes called “in-placement”. While the majority of companies either have a program in place, or simply “encourage” employees to seek other opportunities within the organizations as an alternative to finding new opportunities elsewhere, most feel those programs could be improved—according to RiseSmart’s study.
In particular, companies struggle to match employees to open positions and then prepare them to successfully apply, interview, and land those roles. The same model that works for helping impacted employees land new jobs faster externally can work to move employees to relevant internal positions. Automated job leads, resume writing and branding assistance, and coaching to improve interview skills are all services critical to the success of a redeployment program that can be provided by a contemporary outplacement provider.
before a layoff, putting a redeployment program in place can help your organization to establish a workplace culture where internal mobility and career development are cornerstones to an engaged and productive workplace culture. Putting redeployment programs in place during times of growth not only make it easier to retain employees by encouraging internal mobility, it also conditions management to respond positively to requests for internal transfers and normalizes internal movement before it’s a necessary alternative to involuntary separation.
Redeployment isn’t the only alternative to layoffs. Depending on your employee demographics, company size, and other variables, there may be other options you can offer to impacted employees.
Other alternatives to layoffs may include:
- Creative retirement
- Voluntary separation
4. Establish outside resources
If you have an inkling that layoffs could be coming, or if you haven’t revisited your support services in a while, make sure you have current partnerships with outside consultants who can be called on when necessary.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’ve reviewed your outplacement provider to make sure your business partner’s services are up-to-date and that services don’t rely on outmoded models from the 1950’s. In addition to the obvious relationship with an outplacement provider, every organization should have an association with an employment attorney, whether you’re facing a reduction in force, or not.
Whether internal or external, your PR agency or inhouse PR group should have a crisis communications plan in place. Ideally, your top executives have undergone media training and understand how to respond to press inquiries in good times and in bad.
Knowing who you might turn to in case you’re faced with layoffs is an investment that extends beyond just preparing for a RIF. There are many scenarios in which you may need to services of an outplacement provider, including redeployment, creative retirement, and relocation support. A good employment lawyer can help your HR department to avoid future legal action by consulting on the process, communications, reviewing employment contracts (where applicable)and reviewing policies. And, a PR agency or internal PR professional can help spread the good news about your company while helping to you to prepare to respond to events that may reflect poorly on the organization if not handled with care.
The best advice seems to be the most obvious. Being prepared for the worst case, while planning and implementing initiatives based on best case scenarios will keep your organization moving forward and somewhat protected against the unforeseen. There are many things you can do in advance, such as making sure your communication plans are set and being aware of indicators within your company that may signal the potential for layoffs.
Key indicators to keep an eye out for these business changes include:
- Under-performing financial results
- Changing product lines
- Business relocation to a different site (not the result of growth)
- Hiring freezes
- Changes in senior leadership
Before you need to act, familiarize yourself with best practices for conducting a layoff and have a plan in place that includes all the critical elements for communication and action before, during, and after the reduction in force.
The goal of your plan should be to create an event that will leave impacted employees feeling that the message was delivered professionally, that resources were provided to them to make their transitions easier, and that they have all the tools necessary to ensure their job searches will be effective and efficient.