Don’t forget the survivors!

You’ve let part of your team go.  But most of them are still there at work, on your payroll, and wondering, “Am I next?”  These worries don’t help productivity, do they.  I call these employees ‘survivors’ because at this moment they’re wondering if the other shoe is going to fall and they’ll be invited to “explore other career opportunities.” 

 Heck, you may indeed have to do another layoff down the road.  Who knows at this moment?  But you want your remaining team to be focused and productive so that a future layoff won’t be necessary.

 The best message you can send the survivors is that when you have to let people go, you provide them with tools to find their next job.

Outplacement as a ‘vaccination against litigation’

You have to let some employees go.  Maybe the economy is hurting you.  Or maybe you’ve made some decisions in the past that are biting you in the seat of your pants right now.  Or maybe the market is evolving, and part of your operation is becoming irrelevant…and nothing more than an expense on the balance sheet.

Whatever the reason, the experience of letting people go is unpleasant and often gut-wrenching. 

It upsets you and your people.  The last thing you want to come out of these tough decisions is litigation from those former employees.

Listen, there’s no perfect way to let these folks go.  There are just varying degrees of bad ways to do this.  These people will go out the door stunned, weeping, angry, or all of the above. 

If you simply leave them to their own devices to find their next job, they’ll have plenty of time to foster that anger against you.  Whether they have a sound case or not, they can litigate.  Argh – the ‘L-word’!  Your legal department and your HR department have given you good counsel on this layoff, and in spite of that, these former employees are suing you!  And you haven’t done this with evil intent.  You’ve simply made difficult but sound business decisions.  And they’re suing you!

This gets out into public consciousness, and it doesn’t do your image any good.  You’re the Evil Empire, and they’re suing you!

So…what can we do to avoid this nightmare?  How about this:

If immediately upon termination these folks are involved in a structured, fast-paced process of launching a job search, they have less time to sit home hatching litigious plans.  If they are forward-looking, thinking about marketing their skills, they’re less likely to be looking backward, having those negative thoughts festering in their minds.

Hmm, maybe some type of career transition assistance would serve as a win-win for you and for them.

What is outplacement, and why do companies use it?

For over 30 years outplacement firms have stood ready to assist those employees with their search for further employment – for a hefty fee paid by the former employer.

These ‘classic’ outplacement services often included the use of an executive office, administrative support, and an aura of formality designed to mimic the employee’s former work environment.  And that came with a healthy price tag often exceeding $10,000, and at times exceeding $20,000.

Some employers have turned their back on outplacement over the past few years, believing that these substantial costs didn’t create commensurate benefits.  And they were right.

We will be sharing some ideas connected to different pricing structures that may make outplacement a viable consideration for employees, perhaps for the first time.

In upcoming discussions we’ll explore the key reasons for providing outplacement services:

  1. Minimizing post-separation litigation
  2. Sending a positive signal to ‘surviving’ employees
  3. Assuring that the impact on the company’s reputation is minimized
  4. Positioning the company to hire the best talent available, including former employees, when it’s time to hire
  5. It’s simply the right thing to do

Why this blog about outplacement?

This blog has been created as a venue for sharing ideas around ways in which organizations shed employees. 

I’ve found that companies often unwittingly build a brand for themselves based on the way they eliminate employees.


You may have heard some of the horror stories.  For instance:

  • Employees returning to the facility after lunch found the following note above the key card reader: “If your card no longer works, your job has been eliminated.  Please contact HR at 555-1212 to arrange an appointment.”  Huh? What was this company thinking?  Why not just do public executions!
  • A manager comes into his office one morning and finds his belongings packed in cartons with a post-it on one of them: “Please come to the conference room as soon as you arrive.”  Fifteen minutes later this 7-year employee was loading the cartons into his trunk and wondering what his next step would be. This wasn’t a short-term employee.  This was a member of the company’s management team.  What do you think he had to say about the company in the coming days?


Look, there’s no perfect way to shed employees.  Even the most painstaking processes leave the outgoing employees with lots of negative emotions.  Accept that these people will have, and will tend to verbalize some really negative thoughts about you in the days following their departure.  What you want to do is to minimize the intensity and duration of these negative thoughts.

And this is where employer-paid career transition services become a consideration.  In coming posts we’ll explore the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of these services in a way that will help you evaluate their applicability to your company.