Why leaders should provide support during retrenchments

Talent specialist and life coach Elin Agodi has been on both sides of retrenchment processes.

With unemployment at an all-time high and many organisations finding it challenging to stay afloat during a tough economic climate, along with the ever-growing introduction of AI - many organisations are undergoing restructuring procedures that often lead to job losses. When an organisation goes through a restructuring process - it's often in an attempt to cut costs and in most instances human resources are the largest "expense" for an organisation and the first place to look at, to reduce costs. 

In my experience I have found that very few organisations provide sufficient support to employees who are impacted during a retrenchment process - this includes the employees who are left behind (i.e. survivors) and the ones who are eventually retrenched (victims). The survivors often experience feelings of relief, excitement and ease coupled with feelings of guilt, feeling as though they are on an emotional rollercoaster and a sense of helplessness for their colleagues who may lose their position. 

So often, when we talk about managing an organisational restructure, we talk about how to follow the process to the letter to ensure that the process is completed without any loopholes and possible referrals to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Of course, organisations need to focus on this as a primary objective but more importantly, executives and HR professional also need to provide support programs to assist employees to cope with the emotional challenges that come along with having to go through a retrenchment process. 

Having gone through a retrenchment process myself as well as facilitating large scale retrenchments in a number of organisations - I know first-hand what it's like being on both sides. Very few organisations provide sufficient support to employees who are impacted by a retrenchment process and there is so much value to be gained for both affected employees and the organisations who give a little more attention to the emotional wellbeing of employees who are going through such a challenging experience. 

Introduce an outplacement service

Employees who are retrenched experience so many emotions - from feeling rejected to feeling helpless and hopeless and for some, it may be a blessing in disguise at times. Of all those, the feeling of rejection probably is the hardest thing to overcome. 

In many instances, I have advocated for professional outplacement services to be offered to employees who are interested in getting the coaching they need to be able to reignite their confidence and be in a position to start their career search afresh with a renewed feeling of faith, tools to be able to find a suitable position and grow their career while also hearing from coaches about what they need to work on, in order to navigate an often complex job search. 

An outplacement program, along with professional career coaching not only helps retrenched employees overcome their feelings of rejection and hopelessness, it also gives them the confidence they need to know that with the correct focus and work, they will soon be able to find another suitable position or even start working on that personal project they have been putting off for the longest time. 

The surviving employees also need support

For the employees who remain behind, it is equally important to provide them with the necessary support. Feelings of guilt and helplessness can make employees very unproductive and result in cases where employees are not performing at their optimal level. 

When organisations do not have the financial means to provide outsourced services, and they can consider facilitating an in-house program and with the right people providing insights and coaching it is just as effective. Not only does an in-house program reduce costs, but it also provides an opportunity to once again demonstrate to employees that the organisation is concerned about their well-being and is willing to provide support. 

It is always good to remember that when employees leave the organisation they often become advocates (or critics) of your brand long after they've left, so why not give retrenches a dignified exit so that they become advocates of your employer brand.