Intranets Help Keep Goodwill of Downsized Employees

June 28, 2001
These days, company layoffs are painful for everyone involved, from the downsizedemployees to their managers to HR, which has the task of delivering the news.

But there are ways to ease the hurt. Companies likeCisco Systems are trying to ease the pain of necessary workforce reductionsby providing employees with "transition intranets." These intranetsfeature everything from job leads, counseling services, and résumé-writingtips to severance documents and other information of interest to workers duringthe transition period. In return, employers avoid creating widespread alarmand, in many cases, are able to salvage relationships with departing employees.

Even if exact numbers or targets of layoffs have notyet been determined, a transition intranet can help promote a sense of calm.When Washington Mutual acquired Home Savings Bank of America at the end of 1999,the latter created a transition intranet that featured, among other things,daily updates on the merger and its implications.

"One thing you cannot have is any darkness, anyinterruption of communication," says Alan Feuerstein, then Home SavingsBank communications specialist for information services. "The transitionintranet alleviated the panic."

Cisco's intranet, called Cisco Pathfinder, featuresjob listings from over 430 companies, including Cisco customers, partners, andvendors. Employees can set up their own job-seeker profiles that potential employerscan search. There's also information on career networking events, résuméwriting, and interview preparation.

"People tell our human resources department thatit's very helpful -- a good source of information, tips, and guidance,"Cisco spokesperson Chris Peacock says.

For all the goodwill they can potentially create, transitionintranets are a relative bargain. If a company already has an employee intranet,they cost virtually nothing. At Home Savings, Feuerstein and the rest of theIT team simply leveraged the company's existing intranet technology. Their onlyreal task was to change the content, all of which had to be approved by HR.

Instead of instructional information about Home SavingsBank products, the employee intranet began to feature severance documents andjob-search tools, including the capability to search the major Internet jobsites and job openings with the acquiring company, Washington Mutual.

"Employees have to know their rights in such asituation, and we published every document as it became available, includingcomplete severance-package information," Feuerstein says. The Home SavingsBank intranet stayed in place for a year, throughout the entire transition period.The company even set up a full transition office in a small building in theparking lot. There, 20 computer terminals were installed -- so that employeeswho didn't have access to a computer on the job were able to access information.

In the end, transition intranets can serve emotionalas well as practical purposes. "The workforce-reduction process was a difficultone," Peacock says, "but Cisco has tried to be open, respectful, andhelpful to the people affected."

Workforce, July 2001, p. 15 -- SubscribeNow!