Sounds crazy, right? Maybe not so much. Businesses work hard to beat their competitors, and when the unfortunate time comes to let employees go, it would seem that the last thing any business owner would want to do is reach out to their competitors for help. So why is this something businesses should do when the time comes to layoff their employees? One word: empathy. Befriending your competition isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about showing the empathy and respect your affected employees deserve – and showing that you truly care about helping them land on their feet.

A few years ago a manager I knew in the retail industry went through a mass layoff that resulted in multi store closings across different states. Over 1000 employees were affected as a struggling retailer needed to close poor performing stores. HR immediately began developing a list of senior level contacts at their competitors. When the news broke, HR befriended every competitor in the affected markets, asking if they would be interested in interviewing the employees affected by the layoff. Every competitor was more than happy to help, and one competitor even vowed to offer a position to any employee who was interested. Not only did every employee that wanted a job who was affected by the layoff find one, they felt a sense of pride and meaning. And, on top of that, employees at the company felt proud to work for an organization that went above and beyond for its staff.

After hearing this story, I asked myself why I don’t hear stories like these more often. Here is a business that operates in what arguably is the most competitive industry in the world, retail, and yet they put the time and resources together to help their affected employees transition into their next career – even if that meant working with their competitors. What I gathered from my thoughts on this, is that businesses tend to forget the importance of empathy, and the value it brings to the most integral part of any business: its people.

So how do you befriend your competition during a layoff?

  • Start by gathering contact information for executives and senior managers of your competitors. Develop a plan on how you will communicate to these individuals and what the message will say.
  • Determine what level of partnerships each competitor is able to commit to. Can they come onsite to attend a job fair? Will you need to rent an offsite location, like a conference room at a hotel, to conduct interviews?
  • Celebrate your employees’ success of landing a new position. Repurpose a bulletin board in the breakroom to highlight the next steps people are taking in their career. Not only will it make the employee who landed the job feel great to see their name on the board, but it will give others hope that there are opportunities available.

Befriending your competition during a layoff is beneficial on many levels. It shows that you care about your employees transitioning to their next career. It shows the lengths you are willing to go to ensure those transitioning out have a soft landing. And, most importantly, it shows that your business has empathy and respect for every member of your organization.

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