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01 April 2009 8:54am

In a social media world where “anyone can publish”, managing the redundancy process to avoid online reputation damage is crucial, says HR technology consultant Michael Specht.

It can be impossible to keep layoffs a secret when everyone is a publisher, Specht told HR Daily. “It takes just a second after someone is walked out the door for them to post about it on Twitter or their blog, and it spreads from there.

“Blog posts, tweets and video content all remain in search engine caches for a very long time, if not forever,” he says, so the way employers handle their redundancy processes now can potentially have implications for them for years to come.

In his own blog, Specht recommends that employers:
Make cuts quickly. “This is always the case but even more so now. Use the old carpenter’s rule ‘measure twice, cut once’ – the last thing you want is people having multiple chances of publishing about the process.”

Remember to treat people with respect, but also remember that “humans do not make rational logical decisions based on information given to them… This usually means they will react poorly initially.”

Give employees advice about venting online. “Make sure if they do it will not lead to nasty legal battles down the track.”

Expect things to be blogged, tweeted, and generally discussed.

Monitor the internet to see what is being said. “Allow people to vent but if the messages are blatantly wrong, gently correct them.”

Don’t get into an online publishing war. When something small is published, sometimes ignoring it is the best option. “The more times search engines find a topic the higher they rank it in the results. Also, bloggers tend to react quickly and harshly – don’t give them additional fuel to write about.”

Establish a Facebook alumni group (if you don’t already have one) and automatically invite all of the employees who are leaving. Remember some will later become your “boomerangs”.

Set up an internal wiki to allow the people leaving to document their knowledge in a central location. “This way you might capture some of the knowledge that is leaving.”

Tell your customers, suppliers, media, analysts and blogosphere what is going on and why.

Make sure the rest of the organisation is also cutting back on expenses. “If you keep people flying first class while laying off employees this will also get people talking.”

Highlight the other cost-cutting measures that the organisation is making to show layoffs aren’t the only tactic.

Encourage the CEO to start a blog – this will show he/she is “a real person”.

Make sure you pay severance packages fairly and on time.

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