Layoffs in the Information Age

I know, "Information Age" sounds a little circa 1995, but Web 2.0 sounds hokey to me (sorry, I don't like it...have to laugh a little when I hear people use it...which is good for you to know in case you meet me and see me giggling's usually about stuff like this). Like slap a number on the end to make it cool. Seriously, take it from me...Heather 1.0.

Anyway, there is a point to this post, I promise. Today, reading a short feature interview with Mark Hurd of HP, I decided to do some searching on line to find out which talent populations inside HP are being affected by the layoffs. I think it was supposed to be announced yesterday; yet I was only finding speculation that it was IT, Sales and Services. No confirmation. No contact name. I get it, the folks managing this kind of messaging are thinking mostly about customers and shareholders. I'm thinking about affected workers and the people that want to hire them. Note to PR departments: your employees are your customers (literally, of your products, but also of your employment brand which DOES affect your corporate brand) and your customers could become employees (consumer focused companies, enterprise software/hardware companies: this means you!). I guess I like to think a little more holistically about the audience for that kind of communication or for marketing messaging in general. Also, I am being selfish (in the most benevolent way possible) because I want to scoop so I can do my job better (and trust me, the fact that I get satisfaction out of helping people is selfish makes me feel good)

Because we hire people with profiles similar to many of those at HP, I'm frankly quite interested in the outcome of the layoffs. We are interested in helping affected folks get matched up to opportunities here where we can. I am interested in doing that; anyone can contact me for help and I will get their resume into the appropriate hands at Microsoft (regardless of whether the person's background is sales and marketing).

But it seems to me that most companies' approach to assisting affected employees is rather old-school. And I'm not 100% sure I understand the place of outplacement firms in the current market. Back when I started know when resumes were (get this) made out of paper instead of 1s and 0s...the role of outplacement seemed to fit better with the state of the market. They delivered information to the affected employees (seriously, do you know what color your parachute is?), helped direct them to where opportunities existed (go apply here), maybe provided interview opportunities within their offices.

Fast forward to now. What career-related information can't you find on the internet? What job listings can't you find on the internet? What networking opportunities can't you identify on the internet? Yet, most companies are still using traditional outplacement as their main medium for assisting displaced workers. I'm not trying to tick off the DBMs, LHHs and CGCs of the world. I just don't see the service offerings from the outplacement firms keeping pace with the way people work and manage their job search. Right now, at best, these firms aren't marketing their value-added <wild giggling> services very well. At worst, the services aren't adding much value. Feel free to clue me in if you know or have an opinion on this. Tell me if you have seen something significantly web enabled coming out of an outplacement firm. I haven't seen it yet, but hope I do in the near future. And I'm willing to be the beta-case corporate recruiter if one of these firms want to roll something out.

To me, it's a question of the customer (and value proposition...isn't it always about marketing?). Who are the customers and what do they want? There's a ton to be gained in goodwill and morale by thoughtful handling of the outplacement activities and by this, I mean that the outplacement activities need to be effective and respectful. The new job seekers will carry with them an opinion about their exit experience. And the employees that stay are thinking "This could happen to me someday". I don't doubt that many, if not most, corporate layoffs are handled with professionalism and respectfulness. I'm just not sure that they are handled in a way that's particularly effective. I only say this because we have tried to engage with "pools of talent" via outplacement firms as well as directly with the companies that are having the reductions. Frankly, if you want to try and identify these people that could be looking, you are kind of on your own (guess that is how the job seeker feels as well...anyone care to comment?).

Anyway, take the HP situation for example. I am extremely impressed by the respectfulness and humility I see in Mark Hurd. What I don't see is an explanation of who their affected folks are and a resource for me to get in touch with them (resume database? on line career fair?). This is definitely an area of the industry where we (all of us...this isn't a criticism of HP) are way behind the curve (hey, I'll  even take some responsibility for it too, but I need some more accountability and support from others here if we are going to inspire change).



Comments (6)

  1. Heather, how dare you! I just signed on to "Web 2.0"

    And it has a lot of traction on the search engines as well. The people have spoken.

    It’s the way to go.

  2. Heather at Microsoft comments on companies (she mentions HP) that don’t help employees that are affected by RIFs or layoffs:I get it, the folks managing this kind of messaging are thinking mostly about customers and shareholders. I’m thinking about affected…

  3. Gautam says:

    Good post !

    Linking it on the HP Alumni egroup…



  4. Dan Hynes says:


    Have you tried contacting HP’s HR dept to see if there is a "list" or similar? With a lay off that big they will have an outplacement company who I imagine would love to talk to you.

    Best of luck


  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Dan, we usually do engage with the outplacement company in a situation like this but their offerings are usually around referring individuals directly to us on a one-off basis. We’ve had more traction finding the affected folks on our own through other means (company alumni, etc). I guess my point is that there’s an opportunity there for the outplacement firms to add more value by using the same technology that the rest of the industry is using to better deliver the opportunities to the candidates and the candidates to the potential employers.

  6. sponng says:

    right on with web 2.0

    i’ll laugh right with you.

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