Alex Cox talks to Butch Clas, human resources director of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand at Dow Chemical, about providing outplacement support during headcount reductions.
Why was outplacement support needed?
Clas notes outplacement needs covered a broad range, from the traditional to those linked to the rise of social networking.
“Our experience with outplacement is employees forget basic things, such as how to write a CV, what are the typical channels that you should consider in finding the next job – so much more is through internet channels such as recruitment portals and LinkedIn – and how to use network connections to look for the next opportunity.”
How were communications handled?
“We’d try to look at the person affected individually, put ourselves in their shoes, think about what they would need and try to have the outplacement ready,” Clas says.
“We’d try to avoid giving people the news on birthdays, anniversaries, during times of illness – though you can’t always know everything.”
What challenges surfaced through the process?
“Some flexibility is important. One affected employee’s wife was expecting a baby, so we were able to keep maternity benefits in place,” he says.
Clas says you have to accept 70% to 80% of the responses from people will fall within the range you expect. Beyond that, people can be at extremes.
In previous exercises, Clas says he has been in a room with an employee who was being told the news by a line manager over the phone.
“What the manager couldn’t see was the biggest smile spreading over the guy’s face as he realised he was going to be offered a package.”
On the other hand, he says, another employee couldn’t face going into the office after being given the news, so HR came in on a weekend to handle their transition in order to be sensitive.
Clas also notes the transition away from fixating on an identical job replacement towards a more nuanced approach.
“The other key component is to get an objective view of whether the employee has realistic career or job expectations and whether they may consider a different path, such as self employment.”
What tools can you deploy to make a difference?
Clas says Dow has an employee assistance programme where people are able to talk with a trained psychologist to get counselling for the emotional side.
“Then we had NeXT who I saw as bringing the career counselling part – getting people familiar with web applications or helping them think about the implications of setting up their own business.”
Words of advice for HR practitioners
Like his HR peers, Clas advocates establishing a rapport with the vendor.
“I think like any relationship, you must have a connection with the vendor providing the service and be convinced of their professionalism and effectiveness.”
He also personally checks in with employees going through the process.
“I have had talks with people who have gone through the experience and the key is they feel the company respected them and helped them retain their dignity, and that the outplacement counsellor was professional and effective in helping them find their next opportunity.”