“Other than outplacement, what can an employer do for a laid off employee?”

Question: Hi, Alan. From an employer’s point of view, there seem to be few options when looking to provide additional transition support to a severance package.

It seems as if the only choice is outplacement. As much as we value our employees, the cost of outplacement is so high that it is nearly impossible to justify the expense. If we were to take on the expense we could only afford to provide it to very few employees and likely for only a few months.

We value our employees and want to treat them right, but feel as if there are very few affordable options. Are we missing something?

         Montreal, Canada

Answer: Dear L.N., Thank you for your letter. It is good to hear from an employer who values his or her employees, and wants to do something for them at the time of severance. Actually, I believe many employers feel as you do about their employees, but don’t have the necessary resources.

I don’t think you are “missing” anything, but I  have seen some employers try different things to treat their laid off employees “right,” many of which do not cost much. Here’s six ideas:

a. I often believe outplacement’s cost is greater than its value to employees. In fact, many of my clients request – and are often given – a cash payment in lieu of outplacement, as they believe they can do just as well getting back on their feet on their own initiative. Also, there are now more no-cost or low-cost trade associations, volunteer groups and civic organizations, even government agencies assisting the unemployed become re-employed than ever before. I often think retraining or relocation may be better uses of limited severance monies than is outplacement.

b. Some employers try limited “job sharing” to spread the work around. Though it is more feasible in some industries than others, some employers have attempted, for example, to cut most employees’ hours by 10%, and keep everyone employed in that fashion. Employees are sometimes asked if half-time work would be preferable, either temporarily or long-term, provided they are given assurances this would not result in job loss. Though it may reduce unemployment benefits, some employees even prefer one hour a week to being “unemployed” entirely, both for resume purposes and emotional reasons.

c. It’s important to embrace – not shun – departing employees. So many of my clients report that, once given termination notice, they get the feeling they are being isolated, shunned, avoided and abandoned. As we all know, these are not good feelings. To the extent that employers can (i) encourage remaining co-workers show support for their departing colleagues, (ii) publicly acknowledge the good efforts and long-lasting contributions of departing employees, and (iii) permit departing employees to keep ties with colleagues, friends in the industry, and others they have grown close with, they will be far better able to meet the challenges coming their way.  

d. Assurances of “first rehire” give hope. Some employers give their departing employees assurances that “If we do any rehiring, we will surely contact you first.” This provides hope, hope gives confidence, and confidence breeds success in a job search. 
e. Positive job references are extremely valuable, and valued, but cost nothing. Hope and confidence are also provided by having a powerful, positive, personal reference in your briefcase. It enables the job applicant to answer the questions “Why did you leave?” and can we contact your former employer?” with a simple and sure-footed “Here is a letter from my former employer’s CEO attesting to my being downsized, and my having a great work ethic and unsurpassed skills and loyalty. She also invites you to call her.” Now, that’s the kind of answer interviewers like! And giving departing employees powerful, positive references don’t cost a dime!

If you wish, you can obtain from our Model Letter section a “Request for Reference Letter with Three Alternative Reference Letter Models. Simply [click here].

f. Even the smallest gestures, made in good faith and from a warm heart, are appreciated. So many of our clients have told us that an honest expression of appreciation, a hearty handshake, or even a short personal “Thank You for Your Service” note can make such a difference in how they feel after being let go. I cannot over-emphasize the importance, the positive effect, and how long and warmly these “small” gestures are remembered. How you made a person feel is remembered by that person their entire lives. Yes – their entire lives. 

This list is not exhaustive, but merely illustrative. There are hundreds more ways to show kindness, compassion and caring; the ways are only limited by imagination and compassion. As one employer to another, I salute you. I mean that. 

Hope you find this helpful. Thank you so much for your important question. Say “Hi” to all my Canadian friends for me! 

           Best, Al Sklover   

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