Outplacement: It’s Not Just for the Big Guys

Regardless of the size of company or the number of people affected, layoffs can be a very difficult task that can benefit from the guidance of an experienced, professional career transition firm. Our 4-step checklist can help you find the outplacement firm that is best suited for your organization's particular needs.

Greg Simpson and Justin Gibbon
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woman contemplating decision about outplacement

In classic journalese, BuzzFeed buried the lead.

In early March, BuzzFeed convened a video town hall for all the employees of HuffPost, a competing online news site that had been acquired just a few weeks earlier. The employees were not told what the town hall meeting was about, but there was a very strong hint that it was something good.

The password to access the video feed was “spr!ngisH3r3,” a mildly encrypted version on “spring is here.”

Unfortunately, when HuffPost staff signed into the video town hall, they quickly found out that there were layoffs afoot at the news site’s U.S. and Canadian offices. That was bad enough, but then staffers were told they had to wait until 1PM to find out if they had lost their jobs. If they got an email before that time, they were out; otherwise, they were safe.

The gallows humor contained in the password, and the added torment of making employees wait hours before getting final word on whether they were affected by the layoffs, combined to make this a particularly awkward downsizing. BuzzFeed executives would later tell The New York Times that they “regretted the password’s tone.”

As awkward as this entire episode was, and as high profile, it is hardly unique for companies of this size.

Even though they boast 50 million unique readers each month, BuzzFeed easily qualifies as a mid-market organization. And for a variety of reasons, companies of this size (or smaller) rarely seek out professional help when it comes time for layoffs. These organizations inadvertently add insult to the injury of getting laid off simply because they don’t know there’s a better way.

The benefits of professional career transition are relevant for organizations of any size

Outplacement is a service offered to employees who have lost or will be losing their jobs, to help them find new employment as quickly as possible. This can include a new role in the same or a different industry, retraining, retiring, or starting a business. Outplacement services include career coaching, resume writing, interview preparation, skill development, referrals to hiring managers, and targeted job leads.

The service is paid for by employers but carried out by independent providers who work directly and confidentially with employees.

Many larger companies are more likely to offer and understand the value of professional career transition, having used outplacement partners in the past. In these organizations, when downsizing becomes necessary, there are simply too many people involved for internal human resource personnel to handle the process. And while that all makes sense, it has created the impression that career transition is only for bigger companies.

Smaller companies tend to keep HR events like this in the family. And there is some logic to that approach; smaller companies in general have less churn and experience with mass downsizing. And even if they are forced to let some people go, it may only involve a handful of employees.

However, regardless of the size of a company or the number of people affected, layoffs can be a very difficult task that can benefit from the guidance of an experienced, professional career transition firm.

Properly designed and deployed career transition has a number of inherent advantages – to the employer, the employee and to the economy on the whole – that are available regardless of the size of company involved.

Better for the individual. Everyone involved in a downsizing shares a common goal: ensuring the people affected are able to smoothly transition to a new or even better job as quickly as possible. The emotional stress and strain of having to navigate from a layoff to new employment should never be underestimated; laid-off workers have described the experience as emotionally comparable to getting divorced or suffering a death in the family. Outplacement services not only provide the greatest amount of support while in transition, it is also unquestionably the best way of shortening the time between a layoff and a new job.

Better for the organization. A botched downsizing can inflict irreparable damage on an employer’s brand. Particularly in the age of social media, with industry-specific posting boards, aggrieved employees involved in botched layoffs have many options to vent their frustration and pain. Companies that work with a career transition partner benefit from expert counselling on how to share the news of layoffs, a benefit to both the employees who are directly impacted, but also those who remain with the company. And finally, by shortening the runway from layoff to new job, companies can ensure that there is less psychological toll on the individuals involved, and thus less need to lash out at their former employers for not treating them fairly. 

Better for society. The pandemic has provided a powerful example of how unavoidable mass layoffs complicate the job of rebuilding economies. When public health orders required entire industries to be shut down, layoffs were inevitable. But in situations like this, it’s incumbent on all downsizing organizations to do whatever they can to help their people find new jobs, if only to relieve some of the pressure on the economy overall. And even in these disrupted economic times, there are jobs to be found if you know where to look for them. Career transition firms know where to look.

How mid-market companies can find a career transition partner

For many mid-market companies, finding a career transition partner can seem like an insurmountable task. There are a lot of firms in the career transition marketplace that make all kinds of promises and employ significantly different approaches. How are you supposed to find the firm that will be the best fit for your organization?

The following checklist can help you find the career transition firm that is best suited for your particular needs.

1/ Has your career transition firm been there, done that? Although every economic downturn has its own unique characteristics, experienced firms – those that have been through at least three past recessionary events – are best positioned to find solutions because they’ve helped client organizations and their displaced workers through similar economic predicaments.

2/ Has the firm only recently branched out into career transition? When recessions hit, you can bet that all kinds of human capital companies will rush to get in on the career transition gold rush. But to be frank, many of these companies have no proven track records helping displaced workers find new jobs. They are flocking to career transition because they see it as an opportunity for growth. Be wary of pitches from these firms and make any prospective partner prove that they’ve done this kind of work before.

3/ Does the career transition firm do more than career transition? Career transition today involves a lot more than resumé writing courses and directing someone to an online job board. The leading-edge providers are also experts in talent development. This allows them to not only support someone dealing with the trauma of a layoff, but to work actively to help them identify transferrable skills, and reskilling or upskilling opportunities. You also want a firm that can connect your people directly with hiring managers given that many of the best open jobs never get posted online.

4/ Is the career transition firm guided by data and analytics? A lot of imposter firms, and those that rely solely on virtual solutions, lean heavily on cookie-cutter programs that treat all laid-off employees that same. The reality is that every displaced person has individual needs. The best career transition firms understand the value of assessments to identify interests and skills and match that information with market data and analytics to interpret labor market trends and identify new and emerging jobs. Analytics helps connect the dots between displaced workers and opportunities they may not have known even existed. 

Larger organizations that have worked with trusted career transition partners have gone through a version of this checklist to ensure they are working with the right people for the right moment in their evolution.

But smaller, mid-market companies often don’t have that experience, and throwing themselves on the open market can be a daunting and dizzying experience.

However, it is possible to find the right career transition partner through a thoughtful and deliberate vetting process. Once you start asking the right questions, it won’t take you long to find a firm that can support your employees through a tough transition and ensure that, as an employer, your brand is synonymous with doing the right thing for your people in trying times.

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