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Once-dependable outplacement services are being replaced by companies laying off employees with reduced – and in some cases, no – service at all. That's according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
It seems an oxymoron, but in an environment where unemployment levels remain stubbornly high, companies are offering laid-off workers fewer and fewer services to help them become re-employed. There was a time when outplacement firms did well during economic downturns, but that is no longer the case. Today, leading players in the field like Lee Hecht Harrison find themselves scrambling to acquire smaller rivals in a fiercely competitive arena for the services they used to offer in abundance.

Prior to the Great Recession – more to the point, before the Internet and cell-phone era, when all management-level employees worked on-site and in offices – firms like Lee Hecht provided office space, voicemail, one-on-one career counseling, networking groups, career-change seminars and other services – sometimes for up to a year, depending on an executive's level and the package purchased by his or her employer. Often, those services were administered, if not negotiated, by corporate HR departments or personnel.

Now it's a whole different ballgame. Outplacement services were offered to at least some laid-off employees by 69% of companies in 2009, according to the American Management Association. Even with relatively few of those individuals returning to the full-time work force, outplacement offerings have been declining precipitously since then, according to the WSJ report.

Weeks or months of one-on-one in-person counseling have been replaced with one or two phone sessions. Networking groups and career-oriented seminars? Check out our online/Web-based tools, say outplacement executives, many of whom now work as freelancers or consultants.

As for the HR component of the employee disengagement process, whatever limited outplacement services are offered now seem to be the bailiwick of corporate procurement departments, and corporate HR personnel seem less and less involved in the process. As one boutique outplacement executive put it matter-of-factly in the WSJ report, corporations who still engage outplacement services do so for one reason: "...to separate employees from the company, and that's it. It's not to find them jobs."

Maybe that was always the case. But at least larger employers went through the motions of softening the blow of letting managers go and helping them get back on their feet. Today, outplacement services seem to be heading the way of corporate pensions, guaranteed health insurance, private offices, or at least cubicles with partitions. And, in an environment when the long-term unemployed can easily become the very long-term (if not permanently) unemployed without assistance, you'd think such services would be in greater demand than ever.
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