Rebecca was devastated.  Losing her job had been a constant thought in the back reaches of her mind given healthcare reform and her hospital’s focus on reducing operating expenses, but she was always reassured by colleagues.  She was a top performer with great performance reviews.

employee terminationBut when the unexpected meeting with her boss came, the letter he gave her and the termination agreement made it all too real.  Nine months severance with health benefits and outplacement support gave her some financial cushion for her savings and help with finding another job.  She would have preferred to have had the money but the outplacement was a take it or lose it provision of her agreement.  The organization had a contract with a nationally known outplacement firm that happened to have a nearby office.  Again, there was no negotiation — use our firm at our price.

From there it went downhill.

She scheduled an appointment with the outplacement firm and was assigned a consultant.  When she arrived, she met with the consultant for about 45 minutes, a certified consultant, according to the business card.  The emphasis of this first meeting was on the resume.  She was given an appointment for a follow-up class.

When she arrived, four days later, she was ushered into a large meeting room.  There were rows of chairs and people milling around waiting for the class to start.  Instead of a room full of professionals, they seemed to be a hodge-podge of industries and different skills sets.  There were very few executives in the room; little of the information that was shared with the class was applicable to executives.  And that is when her sense of dread began to build.  In her second meeting with the consultant, she received more, non-specific guidance that did not seem to apply to an executive such as herself.  The certified consultant had little to offer except what was in the company’s scripted job search template.

In the end, Rebecca turned to a friend from another hospital’s HR department to fix the mess created by the outplacement firm and only then did she begin to get calls from potential employers.

It turns out that her counselor, certified by the company she worked for, had little healthcare experience and her focus on the resume and the company’s generic bag of job search tricks, reflected it.

How healthcare providers deal with severance for executives and managers covers the gamut, from nothing, to paying whatever the outplacement firm commands.  In the early days, the firms priced their services somewhat like recruiters, a percentage of the executive’s outgoing base salary, but cost concerns have all but killed that sort of fee structure and now the going rate seems to be $10,000 to $20,00o per executive.  However, that new range, too, seems to be under attack by shrinking reimbursement.

Here are some questions to ask a potential outplacement consultant:

  1. Have you had experience as a senior executive looking for work?
  2. How long have they worked in the outplacement industry and what relevant industry experience do they have?  (Hint: if they do not have a depth of knowledge of healthcare, that should be a red flag.)
  3. Who provided their certification and what were the requirements for obtaining the credential?
  4. Does the fee afford them ongoing career transition support, or is it limited to a certain number of hours/counseling sessions, etc?
  5. What is the emphasis of their advice?  Does it focus more on producing an updated resume rather than providing candidates with the concepts and relevant tools that can become a permanent part of career management knowledge?

Financial challenges in the healthcare sector means that executives who are part of a reduction in force need to be better prepared before agreeing to a severance agreement.