Coping with job cuts

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The Independent Online
WE HAVE now persuaded ourselves that we have entered the final recession of the century: shareholders have been warned that year-end results will plummet, and sales are tailing away. All this is happening against a backdrop of the disaster in Asia, a crippling exchange rate and a volatile stock market. And now we hear clear signals that jobs are about to be cut at all levels and in most industries.

As the grim reaper sharpens his scythe and prepares to cast his shadow over another generation of middle and senior managers so human resources (HR) departments are starting to prepare for the less savoury side of their role - letting people go.

At the same time outplacement consultants are revamping and updating their brochures so they can offer their services to HR managers. On the one hand, they are perceived as the vultures that make their money on the backs of other people's misfortunes. On the other hand, they provide a valuable service that enables an employer to ameliorate the damage of redundancy and give the former employee as much help as possible.

Laying off people unexpectedly should be avoided. "Merry Christmas, here's your gift, and don't bother coming back after the holiday" is not the ideal way of starting the process. Some effort needs to go into planning the process; consultants cannot be called in at a moment's notice to sort out your problems.

Emotions run high, especially when jobs are disappearing. Malicious gossip must be kept to a minimum, and honesty becomes a premium commodity. Giving token help is worse than giving no help at all. Outplacement services often seem to be chosen for the peripherals or "sweeteners" offered rather than the quality of the basic service.

Getting security to escort yesterday's employee off the premises does little to promote goodwill, loyalty, trust or respect. Outplacement specialists should be ready to work with those on the redundancy list straightaway.

The client company must work with all of their workforce. And if you aren't seen to be assisting the dispossessed then you'll get litigation threats.

Outplacement consultants are not going to change your employees overnight. Candidates often don't know what outplacement is. And all this is exacerbated by feelings of rejection and anger. The employer still has a role in the employee's future - constructive references are part of the arsenal of tools the job seeker requires. The HR department cannot abdicate responsibility.

Robert Craven is managing director of the consultancy and training company, The Directors' Centre.