Positive reaction to outplacement from job-seekers

There has been an increase in government investment in Belgium to support people who have lost their jobs. Giving people immediate support is seen as vital, and outplacement has taken on a pivotal role in providing this. Two research centres have published separate evaluations of the outplacement system, where an employee is supported to find a new job. The system has been rated highly by candidates who are generally satisfied with how it is meeting the needs of the labour market.

Background

Outplacement in Belgium provides specialised support for people who have lost their jobs. It has become an increasingly important instrument in Belgian labour policy. Outplacement has been particularly useful where collective redundancies have been made. It has been seen to support dismissed employees in dealing with the loss of their job, in self-analysis and self-reorientation, and also in applying for a new job. In 2010, more than 14,000 employees were supported through outplacement.

Labour relations in Belgium are managed by the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (Emploi), and the organisation promotes occupational well-being. Its website offers information about collective redundancies, under the heading Active management of restructuring (in French), and about Outplacement (in French). Emploi makes it clear that outplacement is compulsory for those dismissed as part of a collective redundancy scheme or for any worker older than 45 at the time of dismissal.

Two separate studies of the specific content of outplacement initiatives have been carried out by two different research centres:

The studies examine the outcome of such schemes and the levels of satisfaction among those involved. The results of both studies are very similar, although Idea Consult’s study focuses on the satisfaction and the motivation of participants, and HIVA concentrates on employees over the age of 45.

Results of the studies

Two thirds of the participants found a job during, or shortly after, receiving outplacement support. Most of the participants found a job with a permanent contract (63.8%). The results vary greatly between age groups; 80% of the participants below the age of 45 managed to find a job, decreasing to 60% for 45–55 year-olds, and to 45.5% for over-55s.

The best results were seen where there was individual support, and in such schemes 80% of participants found a new job. Collective support led to a new job for 60% of participants, and schemes offering mixed individual and collective support led to new jobs for 70%. Overall, only 8% of outplacement participants received individual support, while 52% had collective support, and 40% mixed individual and collective support.

Motivation and satisfaction

The research revealed a generally positive reaction to outplacement. Only 10% of participants had negative feelings about the initiative, and this percentage falls to 5% for people receiving support. The studies show that these positive perceptions translate into a higher job search motivation among the participants. The majority of people are motivated to find a new job and this motivation often increases during outplacement.

Motivation to find a job decreased among just 10% of the participants. Often, this was a result of disappointing first job applications.

Again, age is a factor; 70% of the participants over the age of 55 admitted they had not been looking for a job. There is a perception that the labour market does not have jobs to offer to older employees. Researchers were told by 60% of older participants that outplacement had encouraged them to give priority to other career choices. Some older participants wanted to enjoy the extra free time they had as a result of losing their job and others said they had no particular need to find work straight away after receiving a high redundancy pay-off. Some said they were considering taking early retirement.

The majority of participants (70%) evaluated their outplacement in a positive way. They were least satisfied with the follow-up offered in the period after outplacement. There is however no legal obligation to follow up participants after outplacement.

Quality of the transition

The studies reveal high sectoral and functional mobility in the transition to a new job following outplacement. About 70% of participants found a job in another sector, 60% in another function, and 53% in both another sector and another function. The outplacement system is mentioned by 43% of the participants as the factor that made them search in other sectors and other functions.

From an objective point of view, the quality of their job declines for many of the workers. The studies show that 39% reported earned less than in their previous job, while 27% had less job security. However, general satisfaction among employees does not show a decline. Other aspects of their new job, such as lower stress levels, compensate for the loss in salary and job security.

Not an employment agency

The surveys show outplacement to be an indirect stimulus to finding a new job. Just over 1% of participants found a new job directly through their outplacement. Some participants said that outplacement agencies did not have enough concrete vacancies to offer. However, this is an indication that participants have the wrong idea of what outplacement should offer. Outplacement agencies should not be seen as employment agencies.

In the same way, increasing and developing competences is not a major part of the outplacement initiative. Figures show only 20% of the participants did some vocational training during their outplacement, and about 25% of those who did no training said that they needed it.

References

Jacobs, L. and De Cuyper, P. (2013), Wat na collectief ontslag? Proces en effecten van outplacement in kaart gebracht [What happens after collective redundancies? The process and effects of outplacement mapped], HIVA – KU Leuven, Leuven.

Valsamis, D. and Vandeweghe, B. (2013), De praktijk van outplacement in kaart gebracht [The practice of outplacement mapped], IDEA Consult on behalf of Federgon, Brussels.

Caroline Vermandere, HIVA – KU Leuven

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