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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Outward Bounding

Redundancy can be traumatic, both for departing employees and those who remain. But the benefits of investing in an effective outplacement programme to help staff make the transition far outweigh the costs, says Gillian Jones.

Outplacement—a rather odd word that’s still poorly understood outside the HR fraternity. Wikipedia tells us that: “Outplacement is the efforts made by a downsizing company to help former employees through the transition to new jobs and help them re-orient to the job market. A consultancy firm usually provides the outplacement services which are paid for by the former employer and are achieved through practical advice and psychological support.”

The term outplacement was apparently coined more than 30 years ago by the owner of a Chicago-based career consultancy. With the increased rates of downsizing and redundancies during the 1980s and 1990s, businesses found a need for some form of assistance in reducing the trauma of redundancy for both departing employees and those who remained.

Outplacement services are clearly just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. The economic downturn of recent times has, as we all know, led to many redundancies, with numerous people’s lives thrown into disarray. And it’s no longer a case of “last on first off”. Today a senior manager is just as likely to be affected as a junior employee.

The decision to make people redundant is often made for economic reasons. But with cost cutting at the forefront of thinking, how does an organisation justify spending money on departing employees by offering outplacement services? Would it not be tempting, even logical, to minimise such a significant outlay?

In my experience, organisations largely take the responsibility of supporting departing employees very seriously. They do so for two reasons—out of self interest and out of concern for the departing employee. In fact, the benefits to a downsizing organisation far outweigh the costs.

This article explores these reasons and considers the benefits. For the employer, these include:

Minimising the risk of litigation. At the very least, offering outplacement services can help employers prevent potential wrongful dismissal lawsuits. Employees are more likely to feel they have been treated respectfully and with concern for their future wellbeing. And outplacement coaches will help the employee focus on the future rather than remaining negative about the company.

Improving the morale of remaining employees. Employers often underestimate the negative impact downsizing has on remaining staff. Outplacement demonstrates an organisation’s concern for its employees, even when tough business decisions force redundancies. If it’s evident that former co-workers were treated fairly and with dignity and respect, remaining employees are more likely to maintain productivity and key employees are less likely to leave.

People often feel a sense of guilt that they still have a role while their former colleagues don’t. Just as their departing colleagues can feel a strong sense of grief, so can those who remain. Their team, work environment and friendships are not the same as they were.

A good employer will see the value of maintaining positive relationships with employees. Investing energy in the employees who remain will aid recovery, fuel productivity, boost morale, and minimise the damage to workplace trust. If employers practice effective change management strategies, employees will be able to move on. As one manager commented, “It’s very hard to rally the troops when you have abused people who have been devoted to you.”

Protecting the organisation’s brand. Wise employers want to protect their image and reputation. Outplacement plans elevate the organisation’s brand in the eyes of customers, remaining employees and future job candidates. Moreover, in the age of social media, word spreads fast about goodwill and fair policies—or, conversely, disrespectful treatment. As we well know, people talk and reputation is built or destroyed by word of mouth.

Providing career transition services can also help with the employer’s brand when it comes to recruiting new talent. Even when employers are downsizing, they still need to attract people, and providing training support shows they are a good employer.


An outplacement coach can add real value when invited to be part of the change planning. They can encourage decision makers to address issues which may delay or complicate the termination and can have input to ensure the conversation is conducted professionally. Too often, however, coaches are brought in once conversations have been had and decisions are made—and we may then pick up the pieces of an angry, wronged individual.

Employees will benefit from being given the opportunity to build a rapport with their career coach from the outset. Having the coach there to support them through the process, right from the stage they’re notified that their role may be affected, means the employee can build a relationship of trust. This will enable the coach to provide ongoing support throughout the consultation and potential termination process.

Often employees whose roles have been made redundant are unfamiliar with current job searching techniques. Some experienced employees have gone from role to role and have rarely needed to go through a formal job search process. I’m frequently amazed at the number of well-qualified people who don’t have a CV and have never had a formal interview.

People who have never really experienced job insecurity in the past may flounder when finding themselves in the job search market. They have very little idea of how to go about finding an opportunity. They may have been on the other side of the interview table many times, but they struggle to be the candidate.

In the event of restructure, some proactive organisations recognise the value of providing all affected staff with career planning opportunities to help them decide which roles they would like to apply for in the new structure. Working with a career coach will help employees to clarify what makes the best job for them, putting them in a better position to focus their energies on the best-fit roles. This, in turn, benefits the organisation as it means people are presenting for roles they are genuinely well suited to.

The impact of redundancy is often underestimated. Losing one’s job is one of the most stressful experiences a person can face. People have an innate need to have control over their lives. When change occurs that is outside a person’s control, individuals may struggle to cope. William Bridges, a change expert, discusses the stages of transition a person goes through when facing a major loss. When something finishes, it takes time to reconcile to this ending and a range of challenging emotions are experienced. At some point people are ready to explore new ways of doing things and reorient to the changed situation. Finally they look with enthusiasm to new beginnings and recommit to their new world.

An experienced career coach will empathetically guide a person through this process. Without this professional support people may get stuck and have real difficulty moving to acceptance of a new situation.

For more senior people, there’s often a self esteem issue to help with. Although the “slight” of redundancy is minimal today—it’s usually a case of organisational downsizing rather than a reflection of the capability of the individual—it can hit them especially hard. A huge benefit of an outplacement programme is that the coach will encourage the person to view their situation as “my position was made redundant” rather than the more commonly stated “I was made redundant”—reflecting a perceived personal failure.

Many people look for a role that is similar to their previous role or one they know they can do. Outplacement coaching provides an opportunity for people to think outside the square and consider what really is the best role for them. A career coach will enable a person to understand their personality preferences, explore the skills they most enjoy using and their work values and drivers.

This heightened self awareness provides an opportunity for people to make a more informed decision about the type of role they should be focusing on and to use the criteria they’ve identified to evaluate opportunities. Informed decisions are made on job focus, benefiting both individual and the prospective employer.


Many people focus their job search attentions on the open job market—those roles that are advertised on the web, in the media or with recruiters. These roles usually have comprehensive job descriptions and are open to the world. This, of course, brings the challenge of vast competition. While energy does need to go into applying for appropriate roles advertised in this way, a career coach will also open up the hidden job market to their clients.

This is the world of networking, finding opportunities that may not yet have been advertised and understanding where the growth companies or industries are. Coaches train their clients to tap into this market, to position themselves effectively so that they are proactive in seeking their next role. The reality is that 70 percent of roles are found through this hidden job market, so it follows that 70 percent of a person’s job search time should be spent this way.

As stated, effective outplacement firms assist individuals in clarifying and identifying the appropriate work environment that will suit their unique needs, skills and goals. Some individuals (or the organisation they’re departing from) think that they won’t benefit from an outplacement programme because they already have potential roles lined up. In reality, outplacement coaching has proven to be valuable when it comes to deciding the right job choice and in negotiating the most appropriate overall package of responsibility, work environment and compensation.

Clearly outplacement offers much to both employers and employees and HR will do well by the organisation and its people to continue to invest in it.

GILLIAN JONES is the managing consultant of Change by Design.

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