This article was authored by Greg Simpson and first appeared in LHH here.
They go by many names: hourly employees, non-exempt personnel, entry-level workers. And while they might perform significantly different duties at work, they all share a common problem.
They get less formal career transition support than employees at higher levels of an organization’s hierarchy.
Neglecting to provide hourly or entry-level employees outplacement support is problematic for several reasons, not least of which they are generally the most in need of career guidance, upskilling and reskilling. The World Economic Forum reported recently that an estimated 85 million workers globally will see their jobs displaced by the adoption of new technologies, particularly AI-driven automation. You can add tens of millions more who have been displaced by the pandemic.
Who are these workers?.
The WEF, utilizing data from the International Labour Organization, believes that workers in industries that rely heavily on hourly workers—arts and entertainment, recreation, hospitality and food services, and retail—are among those most at risk of being pushed out of existing jobs and into a labor market that is putting increasing emphasis on future-proof skills that they may not have had an opportunity to acquire.
However, research has clearly shown that the workers who are at the greatest risk of displacement are least likely to get comprehensive outplacement support.
The LHH 2020 Severance & Separation Benefits report found that 57 percent of respondent organizations typically limit comprehensive outplacement that includes one-on-one coaching and technology tools to senior management, C-suite leaders other than CEO, VP-level and managing directors.
As you move down the hierarchy, outplacement becomes less prevalent. The survey showed that 60 percent of hourly and non-exempt employees were not offered any kind of outplacement support; only 20 percent were offered the same level of support as those at the top of the organizational chart.
It is not an exaggeration to say that at a time when the most vulnerable workers need outplacement support more than ever before, we are still limiting it for more senior, professional employees.
What kind of support, exactly? Hourly or non-exempt employees may not need the same kind of support as someone in the C-Suite. In fact, the challenges faced by people of different levels of responsibility tend to vary enough that tailored solutions are required for the bottom, middle and top end of an organization’s hierarchy.
That said, there are some foundational elements that must be present in an outplacement program if the people most vulnerable to disruption are to be given the best chance at using a layoff as an opportunity for finding a new and even better job. Any outplacement partner you choose to work with will have to be able to check all these boxes.
1/ Virtual or onsite workshops: If nothing else, the pandemic has shown that we all have a greater capacity to interact in a virtual environment. The shift to online has been game changing to just about every industry that has been able to deliver an improved customer experience, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, the outplacement industry was already moving full speed into virtual solutions that provided more choice and a better experience. Industry leaders should be able to demonstrate a technical sophistication and broad library of content that help candidates navigate all aspects of landing a new position. It must also be interactive; people in transition need to be able to ask questions and get immediate feedback.
2/ Complete guide to job search skills and strategies: Although the basics of how to find a new job—you still need a great resume—have not changed dramatically, there are still new factors and trends impacting search strategies—like SEO, virtual interviews and emerging jobs and roles—that need to be fully explored. Your outplacement partner should be able to provide the best job search resources that provide all the relevant information, examples, worksheets, and checklists for each stage of a job search. With many open positions never advertised, it’s not immediately evident how and where to find the best jobs. Moreover, the whole area of job titles is undergoing an evolution; the job titles of the future, and the skills that may be associated with those titles, remain somewhat unknown. Transition candidates need help navigating all this uncertainty.
3/ Step-by-step instructional videos: On-demand is not just popular when it comes to movies. Job seekers, particularly those preparing to leave a job, are big fans of educational videos that demonstrate key job-seeking skills and explain how and where to find the best new openings. The videos must be able to adapt to varying levels of literacy and technical knowledge, to make the job-search process more seamless.
4/ One-on-one coaching: Normally reserved for the top-of-the-house executives, outplacement career coaching is one of the most potent tools you can provide to anyone facing a transition. This is customized, focused support to help candidates envision their preferred future career, identify transferrable skills and opportunities for re-/upskilling and—finally—help in drafting a plan to get their current position to a future job.
5/ Connections to jobs: This is one of those features that separates the truly innovative outplacement partners from the posers. Providing someone with skills to look for a job but then doing nothing to help them identify job openings and find that new job is an outdated approach to outplacement. Candidates must have access to real-time information about job openings through a digital talent exchange that connects workers in transition with hiring managers in need of new people.
Layoffs are never an easy decision to make. But the value proposition for offering outplacement support is the same regardless of what level displaced workers are coming from. When layoffs are unavoidable it's a socially just, financially smart tool that shows the world your organization cares about the people you employ, including those you need to let go.
Consumers and clients will consider how an organization handles a layoff when they make their buying decisions. And it should be remembered the people you lay off today are tomorrow’s future customers or influencers. Outplacement protects your brand as an employer and sends a strong signal that you are a caring company that prioritizes fairness above expediency.
Your most vulnerable workers are the people who need outplacement support more than anyone else. They’re just waiting for you to do what’s right.