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The recession has brought the unemployment rate to 9.5%. That number equates to 14.7 million unemployed individuals across our nation according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. How companies chose to handle those job losses will greatly impact the reputations of those organizations as we come out of this recession. It is anybody’s guess as to when we will emerge from the current recession but, emerge we will.  How each organization conducted itself during this recessionary downturn will matter greatly to both those who lost jobs and those who remained in jobs within those organizations.

The two factors that will weigh most heavily in employees minds are communication and consideration. How were pending job losses communicated? Who communicated it? What sort of personal and/or financial consideration was extended? Jack Welch, author and former head of GE, spoke at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2009 Annual Conference this week. During his speech, he recounted the story of how a friend of his was notified of his job loss by an outplacement firm hired by his company. The organization’s leadership did not even face their own employees. Can we guess how this company is now viewed by each employee who met with the outplacement firm as well as his/her peers who remained but knew how this was handled? 

Who comes up with these plans? My fervent hope is that it did not originate in HR. Regardless of that, travel with me a bit, back to a favorite childhood television commercial. Can you image the meeting and conversation to decide on this plan of action? It probably went a little like this: “Are you gonna do it?”  ‘No, I’m not gonna do it. You do it.” “I’m not gonna do it. Hey, let’s get Mikey!” Some may not recall the commercial, but, you get the picture. I’m guessing that each player in the decision to let Mikey (the outplacement firm) do it stopped maturing at the same age as the actors in that Life cereal commercial exchange. I’m certain the decision makers thought it was very considerate to hire an outplacement firm so why not allow them to communicate the news. There, they said, both communication and consideration is covered in one swoop.  This company scores in the basement on both communication and consideration.

Employers, face your employees. Look them in the eyes and let them know things are not going well for the company. Communicate along the way. Involve the people closest to the work in helping to increase efficiency or save dollars. Plan your steps as you review your business results. Conduct scenario analyses for potential outcomes. When you’ve exhausted all other means of achieving efficiencies and/or cost savings, tell your employees straightforwardly that staff cuts are needed to pull through. They will respect you for the honesty. They will also know that it is a reality and just may be there for you when you need them again.

And, yes, despite running the earlier organization into the ground, hiring an outplacement firm is a welcome consideration when provided in the appropriate sequence.

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