Survivor Guilt: How Outplacement Can Boost Your Engagement and Retention Rate

January 01, 1970 by Josh Hrala

Outplacement. Have you thought about it lately? With the economy currently thriving, many companies haven’t. And that’s a shame because layoffs – as we all know – can strike even in the best of economic conditions.

A pivot. A merger or acquisition. A staffing issue. These reasons – and more – can all trigger a layoff event. And the fact of the matter is that, even if you aren’t expecting one to happen, you should still be prepared.


Because the labor market is tighter than ever and retention and engagement have become ultra-important for any organization that wishes to thrive.  Offboarding – specifically when it comes to layoffs – needs to be handled in a way that preserves survivor loyalty, fosters engagement, and actually retains employees longer.

The good news is that modern outplacement providers like Careerminds have always operated with these factors in mind.

But how? How does all of this work? How does providing outplacement increase all of these things and more?

Outplacement and Retention: The Basics

No one likes offboarding, especially when it’s due to a layoff. Tensions are high, emotions are bubbling, and everyone feels on edge. The person – or team – being let go are nervous about their future, possibly angry or upset with the company, and now they have to go through the process of hunting down and landing a new role.

The survivors are worried, too. Will they be next? Are their jobs safe? What will happen to their friends who were just let go? All of these questions are completely normal for people to wonder during an event. The problem comes in when a layoff or RIF is handled poorly.

Let’s look at an example.

Say that Company Y is in the middle of a layoff event. Instead of following proper layoff procedure and providing outplacement support coupled with a strong severance agreement, they simply call in the team at the end of the day on Friday (bad day to hold an event), and let them go. They inform them that this will be their last day and send them on their way.

Some of those notified employees will immediately call their colleagues to share the news, and continue to rehash over the weekend, potentially getting more and more frustrated with their situation, bringing the remaining employees down with them.

When Monday rolls around, the office gossip machine will be running when the rest of the staff get into the building and realize that a whole team is missing. Those who didn’t know will then reach out to their friends and get the whole story – maybe even a jaded one.

These employees will ask themselves all of the questions above and some of them may start looking for jobs that day because they’d rather work for a company that treats their employees better. Who would want to work for a place that doesn’t value their future?

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This poorly handled event may have started to poison the well. If another one happens, Company Y may wind up with a runaway retention problem on their hands because people will slowly start to leave on their own accord instead of sticking around until they get laid off. At least, that will be their mindset, anyway.

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Beyond the layoff fueling exits of top talent, the remaining employees will suffer productivity losses. 74 percent of employees who kept their job amidst a corporate layoff say their own productivity has declined since the layoff, and 64 percent of surviving workers say the productivity of their colleagues has also declined.

If Company Y took a different approach and provided the best support possible to these exiting staff members, they could have mitigated the risks associated with any layoff.

Why? And How?

Instead of taking the ‘easiest’ path (the wrong one), they decided to support their staff members with outplacement, providing them a pathway forward to their next role.

Modern day outplacement programs like Careerminds work with participants to land a new, meaningful role faster and with less stress than if someone were to go through the journey alone.

This works by pairing each employee with a dedicated, one-on-one career coach who will help guide them through the entire job search process. They will also have access to a professional resume writer who will highlight the person’s skills and optimize the document to get around applicant tracking systems (ATS). The kicker is that all of this support lasts until the person lands their next role, which is rare in the outplacement space even in 2019.

Today’s Outplacement Providers Are Strategic Partners

Modern day outplacement programs go far beyond simply providing a service to displaced workers. Now, they work closely with managers to provide RIF training and survivor support throughout the entire event to preserve morale, productivity, brand and retention.

What this does is help HR departments ensure that they are following a proper offboarding protocol that will protect and improve their employer brand instead of potentially ruining it.

Providers also support survivors of a layoff event. By working with the entire organization during these stressful times, outplacement companies like Careerminds can seriously take the stress, potential risk, and headaches out of offboarding in general.

Compared to the providers of the past – many of whom simply provided job search training and in-person support for a specific period of time (three months, for example) – the modern approach is holistic. Yes, they help displaced workers – that’s the core goal – but they also provide a high level of support during every step of the process, making it run smoother for everyone at the entire company.

What Happens When You Provide This Level of Support?

Back to the example. If Company Y provided this level of support to their exiting staff members, their managers, and their survivors, they would show everyone inside the organizations that if they were to be laid off, they would have a whole support system that’s sole purpose is to get them back to work.

Now, instead of fleeing, people will understand that the company is there to support them even after they exit the organization. This is a huge message:  that they care enough about their employees to offer strong support even when they aren’t on the payroll.  

This is made even more important because, in today’s HR world, employee engagement is at the forefront. How are you supposed to have an engaged workforce without providing that workforce with job security?

Employee Engagement: How Outplacement Can Seriously Help

First off, before we get into this section, we need to say that there is no ‘silver bullet’ approach to employee engagement. We aren’t arguing here that employee engagement stems from outplacement because employee engagement and satisfaction is more aligned with how a business operates and what people who work their do in general.

In other words, employee engagement is complicated. However, poor offboarding and a lack of trust go a long way in harming all of that branding work you’ve been building.

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What we are saying is that if people do not believe that the company has their best interest at heart, how would you ever expect them to become fully engaged?

Company Y (they’re back again) holds another layoff and doesn’t follow the proper procedure. Not only have some people left on their own accord, leaving positions vacant and costing the company even more money because of hiring and training, but now their once happy and healthy workforce seems… dull.

Nothing can take the wind out of a worker’s sails faster than to see their company kick their friends to the curb. Why should someone give their role their all if the company will just slash their position at a moment’s notice?

This all goes back to understanding what makes an employee satisfied. Employee satisfaction is fundamentally different than engagement. For example, for employees to be satisfied, organizations have to put in place procedures and packages that make their business an attractive place to work.

Remember years ago when people were putting ping pong tables in all of their offices and providing free lunch? Those do not increase engagement. Instead, they help employees feel more satisfied at their job. But those perks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Many recent studies have shown that satisfaction actually lies with standard business perks that have been around forever. Things such as decent healthcare plans, child leave, work-life balance initiatives, flexible working arrangements, adequate compensation plans, and other benefits.

These benefits help employees manage their day-to-day lives, enabling them to go to work without worrying about needing to go to the doctor or if they will be able to find a babysitter.

One of the least talked about perks that is extremely important is job security. Job security isn’t the most interesting perk in the world to list on a job board, but it’s vital if you expect people to stick around and be satisfied.

This is where outplacement comes in. Outplacement, like we mentioned above, helps people understand that there is a perk and/or benefit offered by the company even when a person is being let go. This level of support doesn’t go unnoticed and helps employees feel satisfied that their company will take care of them should they need it.

But what does this have to do with engagement?

A lot. Employee satisfaction is one thing that the company can truly control. They can put benefits and initiatives in place that support workers through every step of the employee lifecycle. Satisfied employees have a better chance of becoming fully engaged.

In fact, if employees aren’t satisfied, how would we ever expect them to reach a truly full level of engagement?

This is especially true when it comes to high performing layoff survivors. These individuals are skilled enough to be able to pack their bags and leave if they do not agree with the company’s handling of a layoff event. In order to retain them and keep them engaged long into the future, organizations need to show them that they take care of every aspect of the lifecycle.

The Takeaways

The takeaway here is that outplacement can’t – and shouldn’t – be an afterthought. Outplacement offers brand protection, helps retain survivors, makes businesses more attractive, and increases employee satisfaction, which is the building block of employee engagement.

The best outplacement providers should support HR and management teams throughout the entire RIF or layoff process, making sure that everything happens as smoothly as possible. This can involve RIF training, survivor training, and many other things, depending on the needs of the company. Either way, outplacement providers should be a holistic, strategic partner that businesses can lean on.

Without outplacement, companies open themselves up to runaway retention issues, decreased morale, and can completely undermine your entire talent strategy.

The great news is that there are great outplacement companies out there – us for example – that take an extremely modern approach that enables and empowers displaced workers to land a new, meaningful role outside of their original organization.

Learn more about modern outplacement here:

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Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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