Dan Phelan is among the foremost thought leaders in human resources. He has held key leadership roles in several areas of GlaxoSmithKline and is a member of RiseSmart’s Strategic Advisory Council. Here he answers questions in the continuing series of articles for RiseSmart called “Ask An Expert.”
In an earlier post you discussed why it’s so difficult for the unemployed to even land an interview for a new job. Can you briefly recap why it’s such a struggle?
I can illustrate the dilemma with a personal story. My daughter is very highly educated. She went to Princeton and then got an MBA and a Masters in education at Stanford. She has been working in a charter school system in California but she recently got married and she and her husband decided to move back to New York. The charter school didn’t want her to leave and said, “We’ll let you work remotely if you’ll come out here a week a month.” She said, “Dad, I’m not really sure I want to do that. We might have a break in New York.” I said to her, “Look, it’s easier to find a job when you’re in a job.” And that’s the issue for people everywhere. Without a job, employers consider people to be a risk or damaged goods. It’s not right, but it’s a fact.
How is that relevant to employers, particularly when it comes to outplacement?
I think it’s important as ever for companies to use outplacement so that their people can get back to work as soon as possible. It matters to your brand as an employer and it helps maintain morale among the employees who remain. They need to see that their colleagues and friends are treated right.
Given that, how do you think outplacement should be done at companies?
When I first got involved with outplacement in the 1980s, I would describe what was being done as very high-touch. There would be a ton of counselors and companies would bring them on-site to work with employees who had lost their jobs. If you laid off an executive, they would have somebody two offices away in your building who would start working with them right away to get them through the crisis. It was very “high-touch” but it was “no tech” because there wasn’t any technology back then. There has been an evolution towards some technology, but away from the personal touch. At GlaxoSmithKline we had a lot of employees complain that it was like a meat grinder, and there was no personal touch. A lot of people stopped going to outplacement.
So what’s the best way to approach outplacement?
I think you should be looking for a high-tech, high-touch approach. I think you want to be able to really leverage social networking. It’s really about finding the best of both worlds. You want a counselor assigned to people to help them through what is a very traumatic experience. But you also need to take advantage of the latest tools provided by technology.