Outplacement or Career Transition?

Supporting Organisational Change with ‘Outplacement’

You might be working for an organisation that is looking at laying off staff due to the need to cut costs or because you want to become more efficient. If so, what are your thoughts about how you might support the staff who will be leaving as a result of such organisational change? For many people in HR and Operational management roles, aside of ensuring that correct policy and procedures are adopted, to comply with appropriate employment law, the word ‘outplacement’ is likely to spring to mind, when considering both the process for laying off staff and also the support required.

What’s in a name?

I have never liked the term ‘outplacement’. However, here’s the thing…as a company that provides such support, in order to be found on web searches and for marketing of our services, we are arguably obligated to still use this term, if we are to be found by organisations and especially HR managers looking to source providers. SMP Solutions takes great pride in our reputation and caring approach, so we sought the views of a number of our clients and key contacts and took the decision to change of our focus, preferring the term ‘Career Transition‘ instead. Not an easy decision, in view of the comments above. However, as a people focused company we felt this was a positive move.

Why? Because ‘outplacement‘ very definitely has negative overtones i.e. someone is being ‘outplaced’ of their organisation or the organisation is ‘outplacing’ a number of employees. In essence people are having something ‘being done to them’. ‘Career Transition’ by comparison suggests a journey or movement. Yes, it is a time of change but from something to something else, rather than one way enforcement ‘out’. ‘Transition‘, can also certainly be viewed as a positive experience and many people associate this with ‘transformation‘.

You may feel this is all semantics, as whichever way you look at it, the organisation will be laying off employees, so what difference does it make what you call the process or support involved.

But what if it really does make a difference?

Just think about the difference it could make to both the employees affected and the organisational psyche by starting such a difficult organisational change process in a more positive vein? I will be sharing more thoughts about this in future blogs.

Definitions of Outplacement

Knowing that ‘outplacement’ is a term mainly used in HR, operational circles and by people who have been on the receiving end of it, I decided to check out definitions via a Google search. They were easy to find and here is a sample. You can make up your own mind about what message you feel they send out:

  • “Counseling and assistance in finding a new job, provided by a company for an employee who has been or is about to be dismissed
  • “The process of assisting a terminated employee find a new job”
  • “The process of finding new jobs for people in your company who have been forced to leave because their job no longer exists”
  • “A service that offers counselling and careers advice, especially to redundant executives, which is paid for by their previous employer”
  • “Outplacement is the efforts made by a downsizing company to help former employees transition to new jobs and help them re-orient themselves in the job market”

Can you imagine an employee who wants to know more about outplacement and does a similar search as I did? The words above in italics, are some that will clearly rankle with an already distressed employee and could ‘add fuel to the fire’! Whilst some of the text in each comment has merits, the definitions are generally demeaning and inappropriate. Comments about being ‘dismissed’, also ‘former’ or ‘previous’ employer are written in the past context, so are inflammatory and inaccurate.

So, by focusing on offering ‘outplacement support’, although an employer may have the best of intentions, the result could be that the very people who it is aimed at and who will benefit from the support, could turn their back on the opportunity. Unfortunately, the reality is it that the only loser in such acts of defiance are the employees who choose not to  take up the support.

The benefits of a well planned and delivered ‘career transition‘ programme

Managed well, focused ‘career transition‘ support will provide your departing employees with the tools they need to have the best possible chance to find the right next job for them.

For an employer laying off staff, providing a well planned and delivered programme of ‘career transition‘ support, will do much more than help overcome the immediate needs of your departing employees, to find another job. Such an approach can also become be an invaluable source inspiration for those affected to re-evaluate their careers, open up a whole new world of opportunity and possibilities, so they can look forward to the future with confidence.

While cost is a key consideration for most organisations, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, although better than nothing, is unlikely to produce the best results for the affected employees.  Showing a caring attitude and having a programme of career transition support to reflect people’s differing needs, should ensure that employees leave on good terms, whilst also sending out positive signals to the rest of the workforce.

The result…..

A win, win for both the departing employees and for the employer by creating positive PR, which is likely to aid employee engagement, productivity and staff retention.

So, do you now, like me, also think that ‘outplacement’ is an outdated term that should be made redundant and consigned to ‘room 101’?

The jury is out! I would love to hear your views 🙂

Steve Preston is MD of independent Career & People Development Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) Ltd and Author of the internationally acclaimed Winning Through Redundancy- Six steps to navigate your way to a brighter future

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