In this final installment of our weekly series Departing with Dignity, a conversation between Higher Landing Founder & CEO Jackie Rafter and Brian Hallamore, formerly an HR Executive with Imperial Oil, they discuss the importance of engaging the Human Resources department before and during transition, and some of the related issues that may emerge for human resources professionals as part of that process.
For earlier parts of this series click <HERE>.
Jackie Rafter: Based on your experience, what unique areas might there be for human resources staff dealing with large-scale staff reductions?
Brian Hallamore: To start, it’s important to note that the managers and employees in a human resources department experience the same dynamics that we’ve described in our previous discussions. However, the HR staff has a lot of other areas with which they must deal as well.
First there is the decision to reduce staff and the related policy areas. In most organizations, HR should have a significant role in addressing the decision to reduce staff in the first place (including assessing options other than reducing staff), and in building the compelling business case for action.
Second, there are all kinds of policy issues that have to be addressed in a large-scale staff reduction, ranging from how much severance should be offered, how it will be paid, whether it will be involuntary or not, and so forth. There are costs that need to be detailed, including pension and benefits. It is critical that the total costs of a staff reduction are well estimated, since staff reductions are undertaken to address economic issues. So a big question to be answered is, “How long it will take for the organization to see a payout from its actions?” Additionally, there is involvement in the design of communications, from broad messaging to training of managers for individual discussions. There is also arranging for a skilled outplacement firm and the coordination of timing for the events to occur.
Finally, there are an enormous number of details that have to be addressed, and many of them are difficult to anticipate in advance, so there is quite a bit of “designing on the run”.
So, if the HR department has been involved in all of these areas before any action is taken, it can feel good about its strategic role in the organization and that it has made a bad situation as effective and fair for employees and the organization as possible.
Second, there is also the non-policy HR staff, the business partners and so on. They play a critical role in facilitating the departure process – supporting both managers and employees as they deal with the ramifications of the reductions. The challenge is that most people in HR were not attracted to HR in order to do this type of work.
So, HR employees can potentially find themselves experiencing all of the issues that we’ve discussed related to the HR department as it reduces staff, AND the added discomfort with their role in helping to remove people from the organization. The internal conflict and stress HR employees can experience is enormous. It can also be worse if the HR department actually wasn’t involved or was unable to influence the management decision-making regarding the business case and approach taken with employees. Now you have a group of people on whom you are depending for critical support of a major change that haven’t “bought in” to the decision and are feeling a great deal of personal conflict about their work.
Finally, there is the administrative processing and reporting, particularly if HR is responsible for delivering payroll. This group (and by no means are they unique) will see staff reductions too, but will experience them exactly as they are faces with a huge volume of people exiting the organization.
Rafter: Do you have any thoughts about how to address these areas?
Hallamore: On the policy side, it is very helpful to take the approach we discussed earlier of a major project, and utilize a strong, multi-disciplined team. Having HR work with knowledgeable others in finance, law, communications, etc. in a medium sized organization or larger makes a big difference to the final program design.
For the business partners, it is important that HR management is exemplary in handling the challenges we discussed previously – taking the time to lead and support their people. HR often can suffer from a “shoemakers children” issue, wherein, just like the children of the shoemaker who do not have adequate shoes, they look after everyone else but not themselves. This is not helpful at the best of times, but during and after a major staff reduction, it is an issue that has the potential to be destructive.
For the payroll and related areas, it is important to build into the plan that this group will be one of the last to be reduced. In fact, it may be necessary to temporarily assign people into it in order to cope with the volumes.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Hallamore will be speaking at Higher Landing's Up in the Air event on March 24. For further information or to register, click here.
Want more info about departing with dignity? Call us at 403-538-2686, send us an email, or join us at Up in the Air!