What's in a name? Career Transition or Outplacement

Kerry Simmons Article 3 mins

Are outplacement and career transition the same thing?  It’s a question we frequently get asked by our clients and you can easily see why it crops us so often. Many people, including providers of these services, use the terms interchangeably. This interchanging of words is partly driven by the negative overtone of the word “outplacement” resulting in a preference to use the more positive term “career transition”, particularly to their employees being offered this kind of support. Career transition suggests a proactive journey to something else whereas outplacement often conjures up images of something being done to an employee on their way “out”.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, in a recent poll we conducted amongst HR professionals, when asked about what they would change about outplacement programmes, many said the word “outplacement” was the first thing they would change!

Is there a difference?

Technically there is a difference between the two terms. Outplacement is used to describe the support given to someone whose role has been made redundant. Typically in these instances, the person whose role has been made redundant looks to secure their next move outside of their existing organisation. In contrast, career transition can have many different drivers.  Yes in some instances it may be redundancy, but for others it may be a need or choice to change direction in their career and may not necessarily result in them leaving the company.  For many the difference is subtle which makes the interchangeability of the two words all the more understandable.

Does it really matter?

Is it just semantics?  Does the language really matter?  At the risk of sounding like a politician, yes and no. If organisations buy outplacement support but it is not fully promoted, understood or taken up by employees because of the negative name association then it means the employees and the organisations are not getting the value they need. That matters.  If people are not taking up the career transition support offered because they think it’s only for those definitely leaving the company to secure a new role, then employees and their organisation are not deriving the benefits such programmes can deliver. That matters.

Actions over words

But HR professionals who are all too familiar with the old age HR v personnel debate appreciate that terminology is only part of what matters.  It’s actions that have a far greater impact than language. Words aside, what matters is HR teams choosing the right kind of career support for their employees and clearly communicating to each and every employee what this support looks like for them, the value it can bring to them personally and how and when they can access their individual programme. 

When it comes down to it, employees won’t remember or care whether they were offered a career transition programme or an outplacement programme. What they will remember is they were treated with dignity, respect and supported in the best way possible. They’re more likely to speak well of you to potential customers and employees, more likely to “boomerang” back to you in the future, more likely to be brand advocates for your organisation and ultimately more likely to secure their next move faster.  And that is ultimately what matters and makes the difference.  There’s no doubt words matter, but in this instance, action really do speak louder than words.


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