When we asked the question, “Have you heard of outplacement?” the response was somewhat lukewarm. Only 8% of respondents had experienced it, and a whopping 63% answered with “What’s outplacement?”

Of course, a Twitter survey isn’t 100% scientific, but it does give us a good insight into what our followers are thinking — and we know that our followers include a lot of senior HR professionals. So, given that not everyone’s as au fait with the topic of outplacement as we are, we thought it at a good idea to head back to basics and shine a light on this best-kept HR secret.

What is outplacement?

In a nutshell, outplacement is a service designed to support people leaving your organisation as a result of redundancy or a settlement based on a mutual agreement to terminate employment.

There are many ways organisations can provide outplacement for their employees. Group workshops are often used to support large groups, along with one-to-one sessions for individuals. Outplacement is appropriate for employees at any level – though the more senior you get, the more outplacement tends to blend elements of coaching, as the support that executives need is often more complex than that of your junior staff.

In 2019, it’s also increasingly common to see outplacement offered via online services. At Connor, it’s our preference to use online services to augment highly valuable face-to-face outplacement support – but there are companies that offer an entirely online, low-touch service.

Why invest in outplacement?

It can seem counter-intuitive to invest in people leaving the organisation, but there are several reasons why it’s a good idea:

1. Outplacement helps maintain morale

This is true both for employees who are leaving, and those who are staying. Offering outplacement sends a clear signal to all your employees that you care about their future, and that you still value them.

This often shines through when we are asked to present to a group of exiting employees, to explain what outplacement is and what it can do for them. In the beginning, the room is full of people who are often angry, upset, and worried about their future. Once they understand what outplacement can do for them, attendees usually come away feeling that they have a plan, a renewed sense of motivation, and of hope — all of which translate into less disruption in the day-to-day running of the organisation.

This is in part because one-to-one outplacement support is a difficult and costly service for employees to access themselves. When they see that their employer has provided them with dedicated support helping them find their next role, it can be a real relief, turning a potentially traumatic time into an opportunity.

Even employees who are set to remain in the organisation can still be impacted by the departure of others — especially if due to redundancy. They may wonder if their own jobs are at risk, or feel that their colleagues and friends have been hard done by, and that can affect performance. Providing outplacement shows them that you’re doing everything you can to protect those people who are leaving, reaffirming their faith in your organisation.

2. Outplacement can keep employees engaged and productive

It’s usually taken as read that there will be a significant dip in productivity once employees are made redundant. We often see that outplacement can mitigate that risk by keeping employees engaged. Employees who feel that their employer is doing their best to look after them through outplacement tend to feel less resentment and therefore are less inclined to stop being productive during the redundancy period. It’s also true that employees whose productivity might have been damaged due to worrying about an uncertain future can also rest easier knowing that they have a dedicated support network to help them move on efficiently. 

Your remaining employees are also likely to be more productive due to outplacement. Because they can see that their colleagues and friends are being looked after, it’s much easier for them to get on with their own jobs.

3. Outplacement can encourage voluntary redundancies

If you are making people redundant, it is of course vastly preferable to encourage people to take voluntary redundancy. In our experience, demonstrating to employees the value of outplacement support goes a long way towards driving voluntary redundancies.

In fact, one of our clients managed to meet their restructuring target entirely through voluntary redundancies, which was a great result for everyone involved.

4. Outplacement protects your brand and reputation.

Your association with your employees doesn’t end the moment they walk out of the door. They will continue to recommend — or bad mouth — you to friends, family, colleagues, the press even, for years to come.

That’s particularly important when it comes to hiring new talent: 84% of job seekers believe the reputation of a potential employer is important, while 55% have abandoned an application after reading negative reviews online. It’s easier than ever to find out about companies online thanks to platforms like Glassdoor, and that makes it easier for bad news to spread as well.

Negative feedback can even hit your relationship with customers, given that 90% of online shoppers would walk away from a company with a bad reputation.

Another survey we carried out showed that 66% of respondents said that the redundancy process had changed their opinion of an employer for the worse. And it’s worth remembering that the last memory an employee has of you will likely be the abiding one, so it’s worth going the extra mile to make it a good one!

This is where outplacement comes in. For all the reasons we’ve already outlined, outplacement can help people leaving your organisation for any reason do so in a positive fashion — and help those staying to remain positive about your organisation, too. Protecting your reputation with this critical group of advocates or naysayers goes a long way to protecting your wider brand reputation.

5. Give leavers a competitive advantage in the marketplace

Whatever the circumstances of a person’s departure, outplacement can help give that person the best first step into their new role or opportunity. Again, because most employees aren’t able to access outplacement support privately when an employer provides one-to-one coaching support the employee gains an invaluable asset in their search for their next opportunity.

Beyond coaching, interview practice, CV tune-ups and the ability to access new professional networks can all give the exiting employee a competitive advantage in the marketplace, helping them to get settled into a new role much more quickly than they might otherwise have done. In fact, recipients of outplacement services often step into roles that weren’t advertised at all. And if the outplacement provider also supports the employee to onboard into their new role, the effect is only magnified.

Spread the word!

Given that the benefits of outplacement aren’t yet widely known, it stands to reason that you’ll need to spread the word within your organisation to achieve buy-in from managers, employees and finance.

The best time to achieve buy-in is well in advance of any restructuring process so that you’re ready to hit the ground running when the time comes. Here are some of the conversations you can be having:

  • With management and finance. What is the cost of doing nothing? In terms of productivity, lost revenues, cost of litigation? While there’s obviously a cost associated with outplacement, you can achieve ROI quite quickly by offering outplacement as part of the exit package and maintaining productivity levels within the rest of the team.
  • With employees. You don’t want to worry people unnecessarily of course, but it’s never too soon to let employees know that you’ve got their backs and that you’ll provide them with the support they need with on-the-job development coaching and, when the time comes, outplacement services.
  • With outplacement providers. Ideally, outplacement is tailored to the individual — a one-size-fits-all approach could create more resentment, not less. So talk to potential providers, and ask to speak to their existing clients, ask about the consultants they have working for them, and discuss the specific needs of your organisation and employees.

Our experience is that once HR leaders have discovered the value of outplacement, they never look back. So while this may be the first you’ve heard of outplacement, we’re sure it won’t be the last!

Jo joined Connor, redundancy support services providers in October 2018, and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the People Development centre of expertise. She is also a consultant and an accredited VoicePrint coach, designing and delivering development initiatives to organisations, teams and individuals.She is a member of the CIPD and holds a level-5 diploma in HR management as well as a professional certificate in coaching from Henley Business School. With 20 years of commercial and operational management roles behind her, Jo brings a wealth of practical experience to her role. Jo enjoys keeping fit by playing netball in the local league and enjoys travelling with her husband and children.