5 Questions Cutting With Kindness

By Jessica Marquez

Feb. 27, 2009

In January, Dutch insurance conglomerate ING Group announced that it would be cutting 7,000 positions this year. For Tom Waldron, executive vice president of HR and brand at ING Americas, that meant cutting 750 positions and not filling an additional 250 jobs. Although Waldron has been through layoffs before, he says this time it’s much more difficult. Waldron recently spoke with Workforce Management New York bureau chief Jessica Marquez.

    Workforce Management: Why were the recent layoffs more difficult than past reductions?

    Tom Waldron: Usually in the past, when you downsize in a particular area, you have somewhere else to put people. But because you have this incredibly shrinking economy, the company has to shrink globally and our options to redeploy are tremendously reduced. I have never had so many high performers on a reduction list ever.

    WM: What do you offer to those employees who lost their jobs?

    Waldron: I would say on a scale of severance arrangements, we are on the very fair to richer side. That does cost us more money, but it’s a wise investment because you want to treat people who have worked for you with dignity and respect. We also offer outplacement services to employees to help them find other opportunities.

    WM: How did you conduct the layoffs?

    Waldron: I am not a big believer in everyone getting called into a room and then they all leave immediately. You have to weigh the risk that you could have isolated employees who don’t take the situation well, and we have to be very conscious of that. We told people that the layoffs would be coming during the second week of January and that they would be leaving two to three weeks after that. There were a few people who stayed on longer. In many offices, we had representatives from Right Management to answer displaced employees’ questions and schedule appointments with them to help with career transition.

    WM: What’s the business case behind offering “rich” severance packages and outplacement services?

    Waldron: You need to treat people with dignity. That’s important for the morale of the people who are remaining with you as well as for the people who are leaving. This is our brand and those are our customers. I can say that we will never look at cutting severance payments to reduce costs when we are laying off people. Not over my dead body. People come and go. We believe these people will be our customers and that many of them will come back to work for us.

    WM: What are your top priorities today during these difficult times?

    Waldron: From an HR standpoint, part of our role is to be the conscience of the organization and make sure that managers are thinking about questions like ‘How do you handle people in situations likes this?’ We also have to help make sure the business strategy is secure while motivating and engaging people and retaining our top talent. It’s mind-boggling from an HR perspective, but I just tell my people, ‘Have your meltdown later.’

Workforce Management, February 16, 2009, p. 8Subscribe Now!

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