Setting up a safety net for terminated workers

Employers have a variety of options in building outplacement packages that help workers transition from job, ease concerns of remaining employees
By Martin Kingston
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/09/2012

Including outplacement services in an employee’s severance package sends a clear signal to the departing employee — and, perhaps more importantly, the remaining staff — that the organization recognizes the importance of treating employees with dignity.

But determining what exactly should be included in the outplacement package can be an arduous task, given the range of services available. Budget will also determine how much can be offered.

The employee’s tenure, position and age can all be important elements in determining what should be included in the package.

For example, longer-term programs of three months, six months and up to one year are considered for employees with longer records of employment tenure (five years plus) or rank.

Generally speaking, it can take higher-ranked employees longer to find a suitable role and, therefore, they require a longer period of outplacement support.

Older employees, on the other hand — especially those closer to retirement — may require more specialized programs dealing with pre-retirement and retirement-related issues.

The challenges of a tough economy

Personal debt is on the rise and general economic stability is elusive. Jobs in many industries have declined dramatically as organizations downsize during periods of recession or change.

The pressure to find a new job in the new economy is difficult, frustrating and an often difficult task.

In the past several years, an aspect of commoditization has entered the outplacement market. But quick-fix solutions, while appealing for their seemingly lower cost, go only partway to assist an individual and often leave those in transition hungry for more specific personalized direction.

A jobseeker cannot rely on outplacement services alone that focus mainly on a revamped resumé and review of interviewing skills. A jobseeker requires learning specific to the ever-changing world of networking and, most importantly, the transitioning individual has to focus on personal development.

These requirements cannot be delivered by cookie-cutter approaches and computers. They require human interaction, flexibility and the time and tools to plan on an individual basis.

Ideally, outplacement services should be customized to optimize results.

Some of the available services an outplacement provider can deliver prior to the employee’s termination include:

Pre-termination consultation: When possible, it’s wise to plan layoffs and individual terminations well in advance. Discuss with the outplacement provider the issues being resolved and have it provide advice on a suitable plan of action.

This might also include determining the scale and scope of severance packages, recommended individual or group-type programs (depending on the number of individuals involved in the layoff) and training and counselling the terminating managers.

Termination assistance: On the day of termination, the outplacement consultant should be available to meet with the employee immediately after the notification. The consultant provides support and empathy to the individual and can guide him in handling the situation, gathering his belongings, leaving the premises and communicating the news to families, friends and others.

Shortly following the termination, and based on the individual’s need to either take some time off or jump into the process, the outplacement counsellor should be available to meet with the individual to begin his program.

Essential features of an outplacement package

The following are some essential elements to consider for inclusion in an outplacement package:

One-on-one consultation versus group support: Job loss and sudden change can be enormous destabilizers to a person and almost always come with considerable stress for individuals and families. An empathetic, dedicated and qualified outplacement advisor can be an irreplaceable source of support.

A thorough understanding of the employee’s situation, needs, accomplishments and career aspirations can best be delivered by personal interaction with the individual.

Group support, while possibly more cost-efficient, lacks the human touch and understanding of a focused and caring advisor. The generic basis of a group rarely addresses an individual’s specific needs.

Program content: An ideal outplacement service package should be designed with the individual in mind. Find a provider willing to customize its service based on the requirements of the particular client. Depending on the individual’s specific needs, the basic content of his program should include career counselling and direction, resumé and letter writing, job search strategies and networking, planning and executing a job search campaign and interviewing.

Some of these learning topics can be provided via workshops and webinars.

Service delivery: While face-to-face interaction is desirable, sometimes proximity to the services being delivered can be an issue for the client. Telephone counselling and Skyping is an acceptable alternative.

Depending on the size and geographic nature of the organization, the outplacement firm’s ability to offer regional locations and consistent service across the country could be of interest.

Career transition tools: As a supplement, some providers offer the client the use of a 24-7 proprietary career transition tool. These web-based tools include an array of useful services such as self-assessments, resumé -writing templates, job search management tools and personalized job lead engines.

Time-limited programs: Outplacement programs vary in length of service offered, with services provided to the individual for a fixed period of time, such as eight weeks or 12 weeks. Generally, services offered tend to cease once the allotted time period expires.

It’s important to understand the consequences when an outplacement provider restricts service length and holds to pre-determined cut-off dates. People going through outplacement will require these services on different timelines, depending on their specific frame of mind and their needs.

Some individuals will require more time upfront to get over the trauma associated with job loss. Others will find the need to get on with a job search right away.

Career planning for some may be as simple as deciding to pursue a similar role to the last one, while other people will require more time to explore other career options.

It’s ideal to find an outplacement provider that does not abandon a client when the formal program ends but, instead, remains available and regularly in touch until the individual lands a new position.

Martin Kingston is a managing partner at Next Steps Canada, a Toronto-based company specializing in outplacement and career transition services across Canada. He can be reached at (416) 479-8208 or, for more information, visit

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