Outplacement Lessons From Angry Birds

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John M. O’Connor Forbes Councils Member Forbes Coaches CouncilCOUNCIL POST | Paid Program Leadership


John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.


Could angry birds help you overcome the negative impact of a nasty employee breakup? Just as in one of the world’s most popular game apps, Angry Birds, where multicolored birds use slingshots to lob themselves at animals stationed in or around various structures, disgruntled former employees can lob words to hurt your organization. They do this informally at the bar or pub, at home with their spouses and friends and more openly yet anonymously and insidiously on workplace review sites.

How you break up matters.

In the game, the birds rage and get their angry on because their eggs were stolen. Can’t blame them. They perceive mistreatment and take action. In the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, first comes denial, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Angry Birds do the second stage, anger, very well and quickly.

When your employees have been laid off or fired from their jobs, they experience trauma, resulting in feelings of being wronged. The American Psychological Association says some experience the same five stages of grief. With employees, acceptance comes a lot later, in my experience. They may be in denial, but they get to the second emotion, anger, pretty quickly. It should be your job to soften their anger, no matter how right you are as a company to let them go. Losing a job raises fears of unpaid medical expenses, missed mortgage payments and lost opportunities because of overdue educational expenses. This combination of feelings of loss, fear and being wronged, whether real or imagined, can bring out the worst in people.

You can duck, but avoiding getting hit is better.

This is a scary time for employees. When people are in fear, they want to hit back, no matter how many seminars they have been through. Now is the time for you to think about how you want to conclude the employment life cycle, which SHRM (registration required) notes “has implications for future recruiting, retention, employee relations, morale, productivity and even more.” Many times, company leaders who need to lay off for financial, performance or other reasons just want the decision to be made and for everyone to move on, but that does not occur for employees in most cases.

A company recently called my office and said they wanted the quickest, cheapest path to providing career services for a group of 12 employees. Their max budget for each? Five hundred dollars. I asked them how long the employees had been with the firm. The answer? An average of eight years. Companies should really know that minor investments often do not pay off when it comes to providing outplacement. Providing key services, counseling and job search assistance softens blows, and it costs for quality services. Don’t shortchange your current and soon-to-be-former employees.

The problem? Employees and ex-employees talk.

The birds knock down structures in their anger. Don’t let angry employees be like that, lobbing words to chip away at your business. Even if your employees are not yelling or throwing things, they still may be angry, expressing their feelings of repressed wrath masked as raging sarcasm, or maybe the ever-favorite thinly veiled threat.

Whether they are saying positive or negative things about your organization, their words will impact your business. Whether it be on social media, in person or in editorials and opinion pages, what your employees say about you can hurt your reputation. And your reputation matters. Negativity does not just happen. It festers and builds up over time. Negativity in the workplace can cost you profits.

Negative employee reviews can be avoided.

If enough people hear negative things about working for your business, then business revenues and acquiring potential prime talent are at risk. Working to avoid the festering anger that people experience is a work in progress and something that happens over time. Help your employees to shift their focus from negativity and fear as a result of losing a job to the positive prospects of gaining a new one that is a better fit. Controlling the words that are being flung is just as vital as using termination best practices. It reduces potential legal issues, builds safeguards around your brand and perhaps even mitigates negative online reviews on Glassdoor, Google and more. The key is to invest in employees as they leave. Just like the multicolored birds in the game and their varied reactions to their obstacles, don’t assume all employees are the same in their reaction to a crisis.

Invest in quality outplacement.

Don’t ignore exit interviews. Find outplacement services that are not just a portal, a tech place to visit, but highly personalized offerings that provide a runway to the exiting employee’s next mission. Offer the potential angry-bird employees services that will help them refocus their denial and angry-bird energies toward looking to the future. Find ways of helping employees to find their next job. Offer coaching services on interviewing and networking techniques, especially for those who have been out of the job market for a protracted period. Work to have each employee receive personalized services tailored to fit their needs. Quality outplacement offerings can make the difference between rapid success and frustration. Make sure the services you provide offer face-to-face time with professional coaches and consultants who can listen for and hear emotional triggers.

Win the game.

To win Angry Birds, players must progressively complete more difficult tasks. Winning means moving up to the next level. In your business, you can lessen the negative impact of employee layoffs or firings by crafting a strategy that aims to build bridges to the future, thereby reducing long-term harm. Listen to what your employees have to say about your organization, whether it be good or bad. Provide your employees with the support they need to move on and visualize the next level of their career. Finally, to ensure your business and your employees “win,” make sure the services offered are customized to meet your employees’ personalized needs.Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

John M. O'Connor

John M. O’Connor

John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.