Outplacement and career consultant Thomson DBM has over the years played a growing role in helping retrenched employees find their feet again as downsizing, mergers and relocations become common in the corporate world. The inventor of outplacement services, DBM was founded in 1967 in the United States primarily to help companies and executives through difficult situations and layoffs. After three decades, the company joined a larger conglomerate, the Thomson Group. The company tailors programmes on behalf of employers to help retrenched staff make the best career move in the shortest possible time with the least disruptions. Structured programmes help individuals evaluate their options, equip themselves with new skills, and find jobs. With retrenchments difficult but often unavoidable, corporations count on consulting firms like DBM to smooth the process. By getting the firm involved even before staff are notified of layoffs, companies can plan ahead to support both managers and affected employees. Thomson DBM helps managers handling terminations deal with the process sensitively and cope with the trauma they undergo. For affected employees, the consulting firm provides a comprehensive support framework and structured approach to their job hunting. 'Many executives are not seriously upset by the decision, but are bothered by the way they are notified,' said Sue Knox, Thomson DBM director of operations (Hong Kong and Greater China). The firm offers a number of career transition programmes to clients, depending on the seniority of executives and the number of layoffs. 'In 2001, we assisted a client in a 300-people retrenchment exercise. The employees we worked with were middle management or below,' said Ms Knox. That transition programme included training workshops on job-searching skills, interviewing techniques and writing resumes. The company also worked with the Labour Department, employment agencies and recruitment firms to help the retrenched workers get back to work as swiftly as possible. One-on-one consulting services are offered to senior executives. These usually start with a series of self-assessment exercises to help executives gain insight into their strengths, and also areas that need improving. Psychometric tests help identify executives' leadership style. 'Most senior executives are very capable, well-connected and sophisticated in their presentation. We are there to help them focus on their futures,' said Ms Knox. 'We provide advice and coaching on their future strategies, whether to raise their profiles or reassure them of their direction.' With more options at hand, senior executives usually take time to assess the situation. 'We add value in the process by helping them to see where they are, what they want to do and how to achieve it,' Ms Knox said. 'We help [executives] to explore and achieve the best possible options.' The firm also holds occasional workshops and luncheons for retrenched executives. 'We have set up an alumni network as a support system. We invite guests to speak at workshops or luncheons,' Ms Knox said. The firm maintains a close relationship with executive search firms to find job leads. 'Recently, a leading search firm came to present a snapshot of the China employment market to our client executives,' Ms Knox said. Services offered extend to the physical. The firm can provide office space, facilities and administration support during a transition. All charges are borne by the companies laying off staff. 'A lot of our business is from multinationals. We believe this is due to directives from their headquarters,' Ms Knox said. '[Career transition] can greatly minimise the negative impact to the company's bottom line and the people staying behind. Productivity will not be affected if layoffs are conducted in a humane and dignified manner.' Perceptions of redundancy have changed over the past five years. Before the Asian financial crisis put paid to secure, full-employment, redundancy was a harsh word. But drastic changes in the corporate world and economic fluctuations have softened its devastating associations. 'These days, nine out of 10 redundancies are for genuine business reasons,' Ms Knox said. 'When people come to us, they are uncertain about what they will do, and uncomfortable with the situation. As an upbeat and positive team, we are here to look after these individuals during a tough time.'