How to Protect Your Employer Brand During Restructuring
by Leslie Carter and Angela Payne
I realise this sounds a bit odd coming from someone who works for a company that provides Career Transition services, but simply making Career Transition services available to laid-off employees is no longer enough to protect your employer brand.
For decades, employers have purchased Career Transition services to help laid-off employees find new jobs. The reason was pretty simple: if employees felt like their employer was helping them find a new job in a shorter time, employees would be less inclined to sue or disparage their former employers.
Today, however, Career Transition has become the norm in most developed economies. To truly protect your employer brand and reduce the risk of renegotiation requests and lawsuits, when and how you communicate and implement Career Transition support is critical.
Simply providing Career Transition is no longer enough to guarantee that an employer’s brand is protected, and departing employees remain loyal customers and company advocates.
Power in the job market has shifted away from the employer and towards the employee. Talent is scarce and mobile. Employees expect to be treated fairly and with dignity. If they or their colleagues aren’t, they’ll walk or broadcast their grievances on social media.
At the same time, progressive employers know that business is in a consistent state of transformation. The people they need today are not necessarily the people they will need six months from now. The chance that you may need to re-hire a departed employee or work with them as a customer or partner are higher than ever. In many ways, it is a small, small world.
The good news is that more and more companies we work with realise that if they truly want to protect their brand and ensure departing employees don’t become detractors, offering basic Career Transition services after the employee has been terminated, is no longer good enough.
Finding a new job for talented employees
Despite having talent planning processes, far too many companies approach restructuring or reorganizations in a one-dimensional fashion: manage head count by cutting “X” number of employees by department. This is often done without considering that some of the people being cut are actually valuable, talented employees. They may have valuable institutional knowledge, or represent a good fit with the company’s culture, allowing them to take on roles in other areas. Reducing head count without assessing the individuals involved can do a lot of damage to an employer’s brand. And it can erode morale for remaining employees that may feel they work for a company that is not really concerned about them.
Progressive companies approach the same challenge by conducting a solid assessment of existing talent, and look for ways of moving their best people around to meet needs in other areas of the company. They have found great value in moving their most talented employees into different divisions, or helping them take on new functions or relocate to different cities or countries. The personal career growth this provides makes for a more engaged and valuable employee.
Reorganizing talent, rather than simply cutting it, allows organizations to keep people that represent a better overall “fit.” A recent LHH survey of hiring managers showed clearly that assessing candidates for “cultural fit” has become their number one challenge. Once you’ve found employees that are a good fit in cultural and behavioural terms, it is extremely important that you make every effort to keep them in the organization. New skills can be taught, but it’s much more difficult to teach great attitude or cultural fit. And when you can do this you build trust with employees and they become more loyal.
Making the effort to find your most talented employees a new role internally is also a great way of boosting your brand as an employer. One of the biggest drivers of low alumni net promoter scores and complaints from aggrieved former employees is that their employer didn’t try hard enough to find them a new position within the company. While you may not be able to find a new role for the majority of employees, the fact that you have made the effort is what counts.
Encouraging Voluntary Departures
In many European countries, companies are compelled to offer voluntary departure opportunities to their employees before enacting layoffs. In these scenarios, employees willing to leave of their own volition are provided with severance and career development and transition support.
It’s a model that has worked very well, and is being adopted more and more by North American companies, and with good reason.
Most people want to succeed in their job. Engaging in a discussion about the type of culture, roles and capabilities needed in the future provides an opportunity for individuals to assess their current position, and whether or not they will be successful going forward. These decisions are much easier to make when an expert is available to help these employees explore and consider their career options.
Voluntary programs can take longer to implement, and need to be implemented carefully to work. But they can pay dividends. Anne Gallop, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright law firm in Toronto, says “Companies must retain the right to choose who actually receives the volunteer departure packages,” said Gallop, who specializes in employment and labour law. “Otherwise they risk losing key talent who know they can find alternative employment quickly, while talent they want to encourage to leave remains because they are afraid they won’t find alternative employment.”
However, in the right situations the payoff in the long run is enormous. By giving individual employees more control over their future, it reduces anxiety, bad behavior, and improves morale and engagement of remaining employees during a period of profound change. It also helps the company reduce severance costs and manage productivity.
Providing Career Development and Readiness services before employees leave
It has historically been the norm to provide Career transition support after an employee was terminated. But, what if we provided career development and transition support before an employee leaves the company? What if employers and their Career Transition partners worked together to prepare employees who will be losing their jobs in the near future so they hit the ground running when it’s time to actively search for another job?
We are seeing an increasing number of companies providing these services before termination date with very positive results. It is becoming more common in situations where large organizations are closing subsidiaries, business units, or plants, sometimes well in advance. There are many advantages for organizations that wish to build this advance readiness approach into all of their transition planning.
The provision of advance career readiness services gives employees in transition maximum support and dignity, by giving them time to find a new job while they are still employed and transition more quickly into a new role. “Getting out in front of departures often saves the employer money, in terms of severance costs and legal fees,” says Gallop. “In these situations, there are less challenges to the severance packages because the employer has mitigated the issue of hurt feelings. The departing employees are already focused on the future, even if they haven’t already found new employment.”
This advance approach also allows organization to focus Career Transition support on those employees that need it the most.
Typically, the level and array of services provided is based on position within the company. Executives tend to get more, while frontline workers get less. However, not every employee in transition needs the same level of support. A person with IT skills in high demand will need less support that a factory worker with a specialized skill that is in low demand.
Advance planning and provisions allows an organization to design a Career Transition program that provides support to those people who need more help in making the transition to a new job.
Ensuring departing employees get the services they need to find a new job and become brand ambassadors
The majority of organizations we work with – which include 41 of Fortune’s 50 Most Admired Companies – demand that we get in touch with as many of their employees as possible to provide emotional support and transition them quickly into a job search. They do this by ensuring we can readily contact exited employees, and make us report regularly on our efforts to engage them.
However, there are a small number of customers that don’t provide employee contact information. Some cite privacy concerns but according to Gallop, that is not a concern in most Canadian provinces. These organizations put the burden on departing employees to connect with the career firm.
This is a risky decision by the employer. Losing a job is an emotional, stressful experience. Departing employees are bombarded with information and small details of exactly how and when they will leave their current position. When combined with the emotion, it can be easy to miss the Career Transition services available to them.
Some employees think naively that they just don’t need help finding a new job. They assume that their next great job is waiting for them at an online job board, or through LinkedIn. They mistakenly believe that their success in their previous job will guarantee them a job with similar responsibility and pay. They are unaware that more than 75% of job opportunities are not posted in any public forums, but found through traditional networking.
If employees feel they haven’t been properly supported because they either didn’t realise they were entitled to employer-funded Career Transition services, or worse, if they learn about them after the fact, there can be significant consequences for the employer. Particularly in a day and age when disgruntled former employers can turn to social media to air their grievances.
Not providing employee contact information, or discouraging the use of Career Transition services, will cost employers time and any money. For example, one client that didn’t provide us with employee contact information noticed an increase in requests to negotiate settlements. Most of these requests came from employees that did not use our transition services. Dealing with all the requests overwhelmed their lean HR department, at a time when they need to be focused on moving the company forward.
There is also an increased possibility that an employee that does not make use of transition services will sue their former employer. “I recommend employers provide Career Transition services to terminated employees without requiring the employee to sign a release,” Gallop says. “The faster they find alternative employment, the less costly it is for the employer.”
Getting the biggest bang– the most employer brand protection – from Career Transition
Does Career Transition support protect your employer brand during a restructuring? It ultimately depends on when and how your employees actually connect with that support.
The thoughtful provision of Career Transition makes departing employees feel that the employer did its best to find a new job for them internally and prepared them for a search outside the organization. It makes employees feel valued, and that they are being treated with respect and dignity. Most importantly, it helps people find a new job faster, and feel about their former employer.
After all, if it was you, what would you want?