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Can’t Avoid a Layoff During the Holidays? How to Soften the Blow

As we head into the holiday season, most workplaces are buzzing with excitement. Between family gatherings, office get-togethers, and seasonal festivities, it’s an exciting time of year. As Andy Williams puts it, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But even in the midst of celebration, businesses must stay focused on their bottom line. So, what should employers do if they find themselves facing the inevitable: involuntary workforce reductions?

Before you jump to the layoff as a final solution, ask yourself: have you done everything to avoid it? Ensuring you’ve done absolutely everything in your power to reduce costs in other areas is especially important during the holiday season. Simply put, it’s difficult timing for everyone.

Implement alternative cost-cutting measures

As part of end-of-year cost-cutting measures, be transparent with department leaders and communicate the importance of finding ways to trim expenditures. Before resorting to layoffs, try having contests to eliminate unnecessary expenses, or suggest virtual meetings to avoid travel costs. Perhaps you’re experiencing a redundancy issue that could be resolved if some employees left voluntarily or if some employees opt to take an early retirement path.

Assuming you’ve taken measures to eliminate extra costs, and the layoff is truly inevitable, your next step should be to approach the layoff with as much transparency and honesty as possible. If you’re letting employees go during the holiday season, you’ll want to do it with as much empathy and ease as possible.

Keep your company’s name off the naughty list by following these best practices for holiday layoffs:

It shouldn’t be a surprise

If you’ve truly gone to great lengths to avoid a layoff, the news shouldn’t come as a surprise to employees. By the time you communicate about the involuntary reduction in workforce, employees should have been given ample opportunities to cut costs in other areas, from travel to frivolous departmental activities.

Once the announcement is made, continued communication is vital. The more you communicate about the reasoning behind the layoff, the process, next steps (for exiting and remaining employees), and your organization’s financial standing, the more likely employees are to trust your company and management team.

Timing is everything

It almost goes without saying: if you’re going to reduce your workforce during the holidays, there are certain days you should completely avoid, such as the days just before or just after Thanksgiving and Christmas. But beyond avoiding particular days, there may be better times around the end of the year to conduct layoffs than right at the holidays.

If you must cut the workforce before the end of the year, chances are that you know the layoff is coming before Christmas day. If possible, notify impacted employees in early December, or even late November and allow them to work through the month. Most employees are planning to purchase gifts, and the later you wait, the more likely they are to spend money they assume they’ll have. Announcing a layoff earlier in the holiday allows employees to use their remaining vacation days wisely and budget for a period of time with less income.

Announcing the layoff before the holiday season will also allow employees who might be expecting a holiday bonus ample time to control their spending. A poll by Accounting Principals found that 75% of companies planned to give bonuses in 2016, and the average of that bonus was estimated to be $1,081. Going without a holiday bonus could potentially limit gift-giving for some families. Keep in mind that timing doesn’t just affect exiting employees– your remaining employees are likely to forego their bonus too, which brings me to my next point….

Skip the EOY bonus and extravagant holiday parties

Throwing an extravagant holiday party right after you’ve laid off some of your workforce will be viewed in poor taste. Similarly, handing out end of year bonuses can send a mixed message to remaining employees, who might wonder why the money wasn’t instead applied to retaining their former colleagues and friends.

Throwing a holiday party can be a strategic move to continue engaging and showing appreciation for remaining employees, but it’s a good idea to keep any celebrations low key. There are plenty of options that won’t break the bank. For example, you could host a potluck in the office, a white elephant gift exchange, or a cookie exchange. It’s important to bring employees, and even their families, together for the holidays, but avoid throwing an extravagant party until the company has recovered financially and the layoff is a distant memory.

Be More Flexible with Remaining Employees

It’s always tough for staying employees to watch their colleagues pack up their desks following a layoff, but it’s especially tough during the holiday season. Between the typical holiday lull and a layoff, it’s likely that remaining employees won’t get much done. Cut them some slack. Focus on starting off on the right foot in 2018.

One way you can make the transition slightly easier for remaining employees is by extending extra flexibility. Try loosening office hours leading up to the end of the year, especially as employees need to pick up last minute items at the store or prepare for a get-together. If your company policy allows it, perhaps suggest employees work from home a couple days to avoid the stress of a commute. They are going to be expected to take on extra work that exiting employees handled, but asking them to do too much, especially in the midst of the holiday season, might put remaining employees on the fast track to burnout. 

At the same time, your leadership team should be providing resiliency training to help managers and remaining employees transition through change as smoothly as possible.

Acknowledge there’s never a good time for a layoff

In the case of any workforce reduction, company leaders and managers should acknowledge that it’s never easy to make a decision to let employees go. During the holiday season, formally recognize, preferably in a face-to-face setting, that it’s an especially difficult time of year to make this difficult decision.

What you say and when you say it is extremely important during these difficult transitions. No matter what you communicate, communicate it with compassion. Tell employees why you appreciate what they have contributed. Thank them for their time, energy, and focus during their tenure at your company. Support your impacted employees by offering severance pay and outplacement services to assist employees in their job transitions. This will also help demonstrate to those remaining employees that you are a company that values the people who work/have worked for them.

While there’s never a good time for a layoff, HR and business leaders all know that sometimes it’s unavoidable. You’ll need to make the most of the situation by honest and transparent communications while ensuring your actions are aligned with your company’s values.

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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How to Leverage Company Benefits to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

One-third of organizations have increased their overall benefit offerings in 2016, according to a research report compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As recruiting and retaining top talent continue to become increasingly difficult for employers, robust benefit packages play a key role. When salaries and perks (think: free lunch) are nearly equal from company to company, employees are likely to opt for the company that offers the best benefits and greatest opportunities.

Medical and financial benefits aside, employees are looking for lifestyle and career benefits. SHRM reported that the top reason employers increased benefits in 2016 was to remain competitive in the marketplace—and the three biggest focus areas for change were in the health (22%), wellness (24%), and professional and career development (16%) categories. Robust benefit packages that include career development, health and wellness, and flexible working options provide a platform for employers to stand out. Nearly one-third of employees look for external positions because they desire “overall better benefits,” second only to higher compensation.

The type of benefits you offer speaks volumes on how you treat and support employees, which always manifests by way of your external employer brand. It’s not enough to say “we have great benefits,” because “great benefits” are now table stakes. Companies have mastered the art of talking about perks, from catered lunches to team building activities. Failure to talk about the real support and development opportunities you offer to employees might translate to missed opportunities. So how can hiring managers and recruiters promote employee benefits to help with recruiting and retention?

#1: Kick “industry standard” out of your vocabulary

When recruiters and hiring managers list their company’s benefits and summarize with the catch-all phrase, we offer “industry standard” benefits, it’s not enough. When all else—compensation, vacation days, and perks—are even, offering a standard benefits package won’t help your company standout enough to secure commitment from a top employee. Even though it might be tempting to default to a quick response, it pays to provide more detail about the benefits your company offers, in length, during the interview process.

And even more importantly than providing a laundry list of benefits (but kudos to you for that list!), explain how these benefits fit in with core company values. For example, if you offer flexible work arrangements and flexible hours, explain that these arrangements support your company’s value of work-life balance. If you provide a gym membership or showers at work, talk about how it enhances company culture or creates opportunities for employees to get the exercise they desire in a convenient way.. When recruits begin to see how your benefits support their shared values and interests, they’ll see the benefits you offer are much greater than “industry standard.”

Employers hoping to keep a competitive edge are offering more than the “industry standard” at every stage of the employee journey, including at severance – according to a recent study by RiseSmart. If you’re on the cutting edge of severance offerings, use those benefits to differentiate your company form the competition.

#2: Talk about goals in the recruiting and interview process

Before an employee is even hired, find out what they’re looking for in their employer and what their short and long term goals are. Ask questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and “How are you hoping your employer will support you along your career journey?” Employees, many of whom are seeking opportunities for career development and continuing education, need to know you plan to invest in their individual career goals.

A Career Builder survey found that 45% of employees, regardless of generation, plan to stay with their employer for less than two years. During their tenure, they expect to benefit and grow with each new role and and at each new company. It’s important to convey to prospective employees that you invest in each individual employee, regardless for how long they plan to stay in the role for which they are being hired.

#3: Amplify the employee voice

Remind employees early on that they have a voice to share about company culture and employee benefits. Glassdoor, for example, recommends employers invite new hires to reflect on their first few months at the company. Whether this leads to internal feedback or a public review, it can assist efforts aimed at creating a positive employer brand.

L’Oréal recently launched a #LifeatLoreal hashtag to encourage employees to share photos of their experiences at work. The campaign all stemmed from the idea that people would trust their peers on social media when it came to L'Oréal being a great place to work. Employees posted a wide variety of pictures, including snapshots of various benefits and perks in action—such as flex days and catered lunches. Encourage employees to share the experiences they enjoy the most on the social channel of their choice.

#4: Keep employees engaged with benefits

On average, salary is only about 70% of an employee’s total compensation. When employees don’t take advantage of the benefits offered by the company, it’s equivalent to leaving 30% of the total compensation package on the table. Employers who keep employees engaged with benefits are more likely to see benefits manifest as part of the employer brand. An employee is highly unlikely to leave a Glassdoor review that mentions a positive benefit if she has never actually utilized the benefit.

Try hosting monthly or quarterly Q&A sessions to discuss available benefits. When you roll out a particularly hefty benefit, such as a new 401K offering, or an update to parental leave policy, give employees ample opportunity to ask questions. You could also share success stories from employees who have taken advantage of a particularly niche benefit, such as an hour of free lawyer services, to showcase how the benefit is used and encourage other employees to check it out.

#5: Benefits are the forgotten negotiation tool

If you are a hiring manager or recruiter engaging with a candidate, think beyond salary, or equity. Everything is negotiable, from vacation days to health insurance choices. Savvy employees, especially as the war for talent continues to heat up, will use benefits as negotiation tools—but don’t shy away from doing the same thing on the employer side. It’s often easier to offer more benefits than to secure additional salary for an employee.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your full complement of benefits, including your severance benefits. Prospective employees may feel more comfortable about joining a company that will take care of them, in the event of a downsizing or restructuring event. You may want to consider offering perks like outplacement and career transition services to employees who leave voluntarily as well as those who are involuntary subjects of a layoff. Knowing that you are invested in their career, even after they leave, will help you create a workforce of dedicated, engaged, and satisfied employees.

The world is small and everyone is connected. When you invest in employees, it leads to a positive employer brand. In the new Employee Relationship Economy, former employees will someday become vendors, customers, brand evangelists, recruiting references, or even boomerang employees. In a world where the employee/employer relationship is no longer finite, it’s important to convey your full support for employees’ career endeavors at every stage of their career journeys -- beginning early in the recruiting and interview process.

In every recruiting conversation, highlight your dedication to each employee’s career. When you frame up your organization’s benefits in context of how they fit in with the employee’s journey, it’s easy for the candidate to see how your company would support his journey. Communication about employee benefits can go a long way in the recruiting process—and will have a direct impact on your employer brand. If you offer much more than “industry standard,” you should be screaming it from the rooftops. Your current and prospective employees deserve to understand just how committed you are to their personal and professional journey.

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