RIF security strategies are counter intuitive to many family businesses. During hard times for the company, family business owners review alternative strategies to manage labor costs with a RIF (Reduction In Force) generally being the last option to be considered.
“Our shrinking economy is being driven by out-of-control government spending and excessive government regulation that is forcing many family businesses, large and small, to consider a RIF,” reports
Schwerzler has been studying and advising family business entrepreneurs for more than 40 years and he is the founder of the Family Business Institute and the web organization Family Business Experts – both of which are headquartered in Atlanta GA.
RIFs affect everyone involved to one extent to another. Obviously the employee who is part of the reduction faces a significant threat to his/her financial security and by extension, their family members and even to the surrounding community. The RIF can cause otherwise good citizens to do stupid and illegal acts.
As the country’s leading family business security expert Harold Copus , a former Special Agent with the FBI, acts as a security advisor to family business owners including assisting in the pre-planning of a RIF.
“Our goal is to avoid or to mitigate the ‘unintended consequences’ of a RIF. That includes addressing security risk factors such as protecting managers and workers, preventing employee theft and sabotage, retaliations against those employees not included in the RIF, bringing weapons to the workplace to threaten people and property and the possibility of self-inflicted bodily injury,” advices Copus.
Organizing a cross-functional RIF security team is the first step in developing RIF security strategies – a team with representatives from human resources, line management, legal, public relations and internal security to develop and implement a responsive and well thought out action plan, should a need occur.
“We operate under the premise that during a RIF someone will make or become a threat to the business and plans have to be made on what should be done, including the participation of local law enforcement officials,” says Copus. “That is the essence of a RIF security strategy.”
To illustrate how a RIF security strategy unfolds, Copus recounts an actual RIF case.
Recently a large family owned business made the decision to reduce its employee base at operation centers located in six different states. Copus was called in to help the company develop an appropriate RIF security strategy.
Meeting with owners of the family business, the company’s policy of zero tolerance was reviewed and discussed with the RIF security team.
We began that meeting with the company owners expressing their concerns about the well-being of their employees. Their business had experienced healthy growth for more than 30 years but economic times were taking its toll. In other words, the owners of the family business had never had to resort to a significant reduction in force.
The owners of the business were very concerned about doing the RIF in the best possible manner as they had always considered their work force as family. “While I understood the emotional commitment to their 'extended family' I had to remind them, that just like any family, not everyone shares the same set of values,” noted Copus.
The company’s policy of zero tolerance was reviewed and discussions included not only identifying the employees who would be released, but how and when the RIF should be communicated to the employees.
Some employees being considered for the reduction were known to be hostile, who had access to weapons and often times bragged about what they may do if they were terminated. HR and department managers were aware of employees that had been disciplined in the past and might be expected to act out if they were included in the RIF group. One or two employees were known to their fellow employees to require certain medications to improve their inter-actions with others and themselves.
“With multiple branch operations involved in the RIF, to ramp up security we needed to supplement the resources of corporate security by temporarily placing our team of RIF-experienced security experts on-site at each operation,” said Copus.
A RIF security strategy was established.
One month prior to the RIF notification, a general background check was conducted on the employees selected for the RIF. The check was sufficiently thorough to note recent arrests and civil debt actions to include judgments and bankruptcies. Employees in these categories were placed into a “potential concern category” and recommendations were made to make sure that these employees would be offered special counseling.
Two weeks before the RIF notification, local law enforcement authorities were notified of the reduction. The police and the RIF security team worked on a reaction plan to include EMT response to potential demonstrations.
One week prior to the reduction and through the first week after the reduction, the branch operations were placed under covert surveillance. Managers were advised that if an issue were to arise, a call should be made to the security expert working the covert detail.
The week before the RIF, surveillance was initiated to establish a routine of the arrivals and departures of all employees at the sites to create a baseline from which to compare the activity immediately after the notification.
This pre-planning of our RIF security strategy proved useful when a pick-up truck was observed going through a parking lot. Two off duty employees were observed writing down tag numbers of supervisors. They were later interviewed by security. They were advised that this action was not to be tolerated. They were also told that if anything were to happen to these supervisors or their families, the two employees would be chief suspects and appropriate law enforcement action would be initiated.
The first week after the notification provided some issues, all of which anticipated as part of our RIF security strategy.
There was an initial wave of sabotage and minor theft. Employees were immediately notified of the minor thefts and sabotage and were told this would not be tolerated. A confidential hot line was installed which led to identifying the names of potential culprits. Investigation followed and three employees lost their jobs almost immediately.
A demonstration was organized with outside demonstrators and several employees carried signs about how badly they had been treated. The company took great efforts to diffuse the demonstration by advising that they would do nothing to curtail the protest activity but did ask for civility from its employees and the demonstrators.
Copus advised that portable toilet facilities should be brought to the scene and a warm breakfast and lunch should be provided. After a few days, the demonstration broke up. Later, company employees reported that it was hard to be angry at the company when food was being provided to the demonstrators.
RIF security strategies work!
If your family business is considering a RIF and would like to discuss your situation with our family business security expert, you can contact Harold Copus by using the ASK THE EXPERT feature of the Family Business Help Desk form at the bottom of this page.
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