HR can help laid-off employees land on their feet with these solutions

HR’s responsibilities don’t have to end when employees are let go.
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· 5 min read

If one’s career arc was the flightpath of a passenger jet, holding a steady job would be a long-haul trek through tranquil skies, followed by a pleasant landing at the Social Security Terminal of International Retirement Airport. Much like turbulence or mechanical problems, layoffs disrupt this trajectory, casting employees into the unknown like a Samsonite chucked off a 737.

Layoffs recently hit tech giants and startups alike, with the latter group letting go 69,857 employees so far this year, according to Hiring has also slowed at some companies, fueling gloomy forecasts of a coming recession. But losing one’s job doesn’t have to feel like deboarding a plane that’s parked on the edge of a cliff. Experts told HR Brew that outplacement solutions can soften the blow.

“Savvy employers feel like it’s a good move to go a little above and beyond when they’re faced with having to do layoffs,” Meg McCormick Martin, a résumé writer and career coach with 30 years of HR experience, explained. “You don’t want to be known as a company that didn’t care.”

Alumni, anyone? While it is common for workers to announce layoffs on social media, and aggregated lists of laid-off employees—such as or Parachute—have offered recruiters a bounty of readily-available talent, some companies are going a step further. By compiling and sharing “alumni lists,” employers can network on behalf of their former employees—or at least attempt to.

Kenny Mendes, head of finance, people, and operations at digital document maker Coda, said he first noticed alumni lists circulating at the beginning of the pandemic.

At the time, laid-off employees were creating and distributing the lists. HR teams were “really hesitant” to create their own, he said, “because they’re often coming at this from, ‘How do I minimize risk for the company?’” But that hesitancy faded. Companies that have recently weathered staff reductions, such as Coinbase and Airbnb, Mendes said, have compiled alumni lists using Coda’s platform, which provides a template for HR.

Eventually, Mendes said, a trend emerged “where companies started to shift from risk-aversion to, ‘I need to really make sure these people who we care about deeply find a good next home.’”

But an alumni list only provides value if recruiters know it exists. To that end, Mendes advised having someone with a notable social media presence blast it out to the masses. Following Uber and Airbnb’s recent round of layoffs, for example, “You just needed one person to start that viral flywheel. I think without that, it’s tough.”

Get permission first. Caveats apply, of course, and in the experience of HR coordinator Britt Alaimo, screaming from the digital rooftops about laid-off employees can backfire. “When you’re circulating an alumni list…the first thing that you want to do is ask the employees if they are comfortable being on it,” she explained. When layoffs hit a previous company she had worked at, “the CEO circulated an alumni list and posted on his LinkedIn without asking employees permission first.”

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Alaimo said no employee names were shared on LinkedIn, but many of her laid-off colleagues were upset their CEO attempted to network on their behalf.

“When you get laid off, you go through stages of grief,” she said. Employees need time to process the loss of a job: “When you, right off the bat, say, ‘How about I put you on an alumni list to show you to my connections, or help you network?’ To some folks, it makes them seem like a number.”

Before compiling an alumni list, HR teams should ask themselves about their motivations, Alaimo said: “Are you just doing it for damage control? Or are you doing it to send it out to your network” and “be helpful”?

Outplacement. When Shopify announced layoffs in July, CEO Tobias Lütke wrote in a message to staff that those let go would receive “outplacement services with access to career coaching, interviewing support, [and] résumé crafting.”

Larry Fisher, VP of talent advisory services of outplacement and career consultancy the Ayers Group, told HR Brew that outplacement services “have been part of severance packages for a lot of companies for a few decades.” The motivation, he added, is often preserving their employer brand. “If you need to be hiring and be in a growth mode, and you’ve got a bad reputation for the way you’re treating people out the door… it gets around.”

An outplacement firm can shepherd the post-layoff process by assisting with cover letters, interview preparation, career transitions, and even the onboarding process at a new job, Fisher said.

Outplacement firms, McCormick Martin said, “are really good for people who haven’t been in the job market for a while, because they’re current on what the…trends are, and have insight and connections.”

With any luck, HR departments that have to navigate the turbulent airspace of today’s strange economy can do so with a few parachutes at their disposal.—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.