How to approach reduction in force (RIF)

May 7, 2020
Termination considerations for security departments during the COVID-19 crisis

Over the course of a few weeks, I have had a common discussion with security directors - The RIF, which also goes under other euphemistic namesakes as the "re-organization", "layoff", "furloughed" "right-sizing", and similar. Regardless of the term, it all ends with the common theme - people are going to lose their jobs. The process is difficult for people making the RIF decision, and certainly for the people experiencing the RIF.

The COVID-19 event has created substantial workloads on all staff, and literally, while senior leaders focus on the granularity of business, security, Human Resources and a myriad of others are challenged with their day-to-day tasks, new tasks regarding COVID-19 exposures, work-at-home initiatives and now the RIF.

Termination processes are very different now. For many employers, employees who will be selected for a downsizing, are likely not on-premise. Many employees may have additional company property, such as computers, copiers, monitors cell phones, etc. Other employees may have access to or manage sensitive data/systems. Certainly, we do not want to summon these employees from their homes for a termination process. Equally not ideal, social distancing guidelines force employers to notify its employees of this decision via the impersonal and undesirable medium - Webex or telephone.

During my discussion(s), I listed out considerations. Certainly, this is not exhaustive, but it is a starting point to avoid unnecessary grievances and workplace violence issues.

  1. With so many distractions, security could be left out of the RIF discussion. Security Directors should proactively reach out to Human Resources (HR), and ask to support the RIF process. Security Directors should communicate to HR the possibility of 'exiting' red-flagged personnel from the organization.
  2. Make sure to include your Information Technology (IT) brethren in these discussions. More than ever, IT will be needed to support this process. Examples: How will you terminate network, computer access? How fast can it be done? Does it require actions such as locking, restarting a computer? What data is resident on employees' machines? How will personal contacts be distributed? What about mobile technologies?

3.   Training. Make sure that you have simple/short de-escalation training for Webex/PowerPoint for managers/supervisors and Human Resources professionals.

De-escalation is rooted in diffusing emotional energy. Here are some actions to consider in your organization’s RIF strategy:

  • Establish a risk assessment process. Could they become violent? Do they have a support group? What do they have access to? What could they sabotage? Can they get back into the building? What network access do they have? What equipment do they have, and how important/expensive is the equipment? Involve IT so they can weigh in on assets their department is responsible for. The outcome of the risk assessment process? highest risk employees should be released first. Why? So they are not tipped off by others and attempt mischievous acts.
  • Timing is critical, and how you approach communication equally important. One of the key reasons we terminate on a Tuesday or Thursday is to let people 'vent' and heal. In a world of hyper-connectivity, they actually might not be able to communicate with them - no home phone number, no access to messaging service. Determine if there is a way for you to compartmentalize network access, so they can use select services and communicate with employees, but no longer have access to company resources.
  • Catalog what equipment employees have and update your termination lists.
  • Update policies, procedures regarding trespassing and returning to work, unless its work-related.
  • Some may elect to terminate via a video conference, to make it more personal. This is a double-edged sword.

Unlike a personal meeting, somatic cues will be very important. Rehearse termination processes, build scripts, have an Agenda and work through a no-win situation. Be prepared to set limits and pause to allow people to process information. Ensure you have a pen and paper and write down all their comments - make sure that the camera's view will allow the person to see you writing down the comments.

The termination process should not be a dialog, it should be short, sweet, direct, and framed solely around a business decision. Make sure you’re looking at the camera, and not another monitor - your attention should be fully on the person.

  • Make commitments and keep them. Smiling is not a good idea, it’s a somber moment. As always maintain the dignity of the person. Do not rush the person and ensure that you do not schedule more terminations than you can mentally handle in a day. Have at least one hour between calls.
  • Establish a process/options for the employee to obtain their belongings by mail or return to w retrieve their personal belongings with an escort. If you plan on sending items, make sure you catalog everything and pack items very well. Show that you care about their items. Many employees have company property under the new work-at-home scheme. Tie and stagger severance payments over 1-6 months and make them contingent on: not returning to the workplace, returning company property and credentials/keys, etc.
  • Provide alternatives to appease: It is a difficult time for them. Consider, elongating medical benefits, provide access to Employee Assistance Programs, counseling, job placement services, testimonial letters, preferred option to return and similar.

Stay healthy, and feel free to contribute in the comments below. All valid contributions will be added above, and I will add your name with credit. The intent is to crowdsource best practices.

About the Author: Sean A. Ahrens, M.A., CPP, FSyl, BSCP is an asset protection (security) resiliency leader/expert security consultant with over 20 years of achievement, focusing on the development/administration of cost-effective programs that reduce security exposures within domestic and international markets. He is currently with Affiliated Engineers, the AEC industry's leading technical consulting firm for uniquely complex large-scale building, energy, and utility projects.