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The personal touch of outplacement

setting the stage for career action

by Cam McRae & Eileen Dooley
From Canadian HR Reporter

April 8, 2013

Job loss is an emotional time when people feel alone, scared and vulnerable. When an employer needs to terminate an employee, assisting her in the transition to secure a new role — through a severance package and outplacement services — shows compassion and empathy.

 

Traditionally, an outplacement consultant could help the employee deal with reactions of shock, anger and sadness. The consultant would let her know everything they discuss is confidential, creating a safe place for the employee to talk through her emotions.

The employee could then further engage the services of the outplacement company by travelling to its office and participating in a group orientation. She would be assigned a coach and further encouraged to attend workshops in resumé development, interviewing skills and job-search techniques.

New approaches

But now the same services are being offered with the enhancement of social media tools, coaching, networking skill development and on-boarding support.

And while employees still need the traditional services, they want them delivered at a very personal level. And HR is looking for more than a purely transitional relationship with the outplacement provider.

This high-touch approach is part of the evolution of outplacement services in an age where people expect personal services — they want to feel like the only client, they want to develop a strong relationship with their coach.

One-on-one services

Outplacement has traditionally been a combination of personal consulting and group workshops, with an emphasis on getting many people together to learn how to write resumés and cover letters.

However, a one-on-one, in-person approach is becoming the preferred method for employees to engage in transition services. They do not want to be surrounded by other people in the same situation, hearing about their doubts and triumphs of job searching.

They want to be handled individually, with privacy and a personalized strategy on how to help them achieve career goals, and they want that relationship with a coach.

A coaching program can include:

  • determining where and what the next steps will be in the person’s career
  • managing delicate conversations regarding a person’s previous role and company
  • career testing and assessment services when considering alternative career choices
  • developing an accomplishment-style resumé and appropriate cover letter
  • preparing for interviews, including a mock interview with candid feedback from a professional, trained interviewer
  • counselling on how to use contacts, grow a network and approach the job market

Once seen as canned and scripted, career transition services have evolved into a high-touch relationship.

  • advice on how to negotiate compensation packages for a new role
  • guidance on properly preparing references
  • counsel for considering self-employment, developing a small business or going into semi-retirement.

Employees want to know their coach is not only concerned about them right after the termination, but will be part of the next steps as well. As a result, many firms are beginning to offer onboarding support. This involves coaching to help the employee transition to a new role and help carve out what the crucial first 90 days will look like.

New ways to get together

Many outplacement agencies are located in major centres, mostly downtown. To access these offices, employees need to commute into the core, pay to park and head into an office full of other people just like them who have lost their jobs.

Many people find this approach embarrassing, intimidating and impersonal, especially if they are not familiar with downtown.

As an alternative, consultants can meet with the employee at a place that is comfortable for him, such as a favourite coffee house, a library or the employee’s home. Choosing the location puts some control back in the employee’s hands.

Years ago, the purchase of a computer and cellphone was not financially possible for many people who were unemployed so they relied on outplacement agencies to provide computers to print resumés and peruse the Internet.

But since laptops and cellphones can be purchased at a reasonable rate, employees can meet one-on-one with their career transition coach at a time and location that is convenient to them. They can also choose to have meetings virtually, using a cellphone, email or Skype.

Relationship with HR

Rather than having a purely transitional relationship, human resources professionals are expecting the outplacement consultant to act as a subject matter expert in providing coaching to managers and leaders regarding appropriate process during, and after, terminations.

Outplacement consultants can also coach leaders on how to manage difficult conversations and communication with staff members who remain at the company after a co-worker has been released.

It is no longer enough for outplacement consultants to come into a workplace, gather a newly terminated employee and leave. As the relationship and the element of trust have developed, HR professionals expect stronger support.

In some ways, outplacement firms have become increasingly responsible for the entire termination process, including post-termination fallout long after they have left the building.

The role of outplacement has shifted from a straight employment transition to one of coaching, on a helpful, practical and purposeful basis to support the business internally.

Once seen as canned and scripted, career transition services have evolved into a relationship, with employees demanding a high-touch, personal service to meet their unique needs.

Employees are less likely to conform to a program designed for everyone — they want privacy, personal service and complete trust.

Traditional outplacement services are still important but employees can and will demand a level of personal service — delivered how, when and where they want it.

Cam McRae is president and Eileen Dooley is team lead at McRae Inc., a career transition and human resources agency based in Calgary.