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Outplacement Services Are No Longer a Secondary Perk

Laid-off workers look for jobs amid growing unemployment

A man is looking at a job search page on a laptop.

At the start of 2020, with a U.S. economy at nearly full employment and more job openings than job hunters, outplacement services for departing employees may have seemed like an unnecessary perk for rank and file workers. Now, as employers cut payrolls in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, helping employees to find new positions quickly has taken on new importance.

The nation's unemployment rate was 3.5 percent in February, a half-century low, but toward the end of March unemployment had likely risen to 5.5 percent. JPMorgan's economists now foresee the U.S. unemployment rate rising to 20 percent, with 25 million jobs lost.

"As the U.S. transitions from the recent glut of job openings to a tight job market, the economic and personal impact will be enormous," said Jeff Rogers, CEO of Job Hunter Pro, a San Diego-based provider of online outplacement services. "Coronavirus-related layoffs are impacting more people in the U.S. than the disease itself."

Many laid-off employees haven't been in the job market in years, he added. "Without relevant job-hunting skills, some may not even know where to start."

Virtual Services

Outsourcing agencies provide assistance to former employees looking for new jobs and help them reorient themselves in a new position. While this once required a face-to-face meeting with a job-placement counselor, virtual delivery models make it possible for "more companies [to] provide these benefits to all levels" of employees, said Raymond Lee, CEO of Careerminds, an outplacement and career transition firm in Wilmington, Del.

"Providing traditional outplacement during these tough times doesn't make sense as employees are not able to travel and go into an office," Lee added. "Virtual delivery is the best approach if companies are having to make cuts today."

Virtual services also tend to be available at a significantly lower cost than individual face-to-face counseling, he noted. That's significant because companies that are laying off employees aren't likely to take on a significant expense to provide outplacement support.

[SHRM members-only HR forms: Layoff FAQs for Employees]

Doing the Right Thing

During the current crisis, "it's important that employers be socially responsible when managing a reduction-in-force," said Amy Tilles, a principal with HR advisory firm Mercer. "Employers' actions today can affect their brand tomorrow."

Tilles, author of a new Mercer report, Saying Goodbye Responsibly, observed that "while jobs are in short supply, it is even more important for employers to provide transitioning talent with professional outplacement services." She highlighted three reasons why employers should provide this aid:

  • Outplacement professionals can discuss each transitioning employee's unique skills and how they align with jobs available in the marketplace. On their own, many employees search for the job they had, which may no longer be available in their given industry and location. "Professional outplacement coaches provide guidance on how to pivot careers based on jobs and industries that are hiring," Tilles said. "Paired with interactive platforms that assess skills and temperament, laid-off employees can infuse new and available career ideas into their search."
  • The job search process has changed significantly in last decade. Many employees "haven't looked for a job in a very long time and may need guidance on the use of social platforms for networking, including tying jobs of interest to first and second connections, which can increase their odds of being interviewed and ultimately selected for a job," Tilles noted.
  • Virtual solutions provide on-demand access to coaches. This allows people to search for jobs "on their time, which is especially beneficial as many are caring for family members amid shelter-in-place orders," Tilles said. She suggested that employers look for outplacement providers who offer services ranging from 24/7 platform connectivity to social profile setup support.

"These solutions are about people and their ability to work to support their families," Tilles added. "Offering transitioning employees a professional service shows that employers care about their ability to move forward."

Related SHRM Articles:

How to Help Employees Navigate Unemployment During COVID-19, SHRM Online, April 2020

More Organizations Are Expanding Severance Benefits, Survey Finds, SHRM Online, June 2019

How to Get the Most Return from Outplacement Services, SHRM Online, March 2018


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