Dismissal: a slap in the face?

In a recent article in De Standaard, Annick Ruyts, an employee at VRT, expressed dissatisfaction with the way her dismissal unfolded during the latest organizational restructuring. Abrupt and strictly business like, lacking the anticipated humane touch in both communication and farewell gestures.

How would you yourself like to be fired? Have you ever thought about that? How about incorporating this aspect into the hiring process or including it in the employment contract? Is your preference for a brief and stoic exit, or would you appreciate having ample time to bid farewell and express your emotions?

We are not talking about the individual dismissal here which can be experienced as ‘liberating’ if the fit with the company or the job is lacking or if the employee-employer relationship is not working out and it is simply best to part ways. We focus on multiple or collective dismissals where several employees are suddenly asked to leave their organisation for economic reasons.

That is where the words dismissal and redundancy can have real, tangible meaning for those involved. The reactions do not lie. You only have to read the headlines on some restructurings: a “sledgehammer blow”, a “slap in the face”, a true “battlefield” for staff…

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

When dealing with redundancies, you have every interest in handling redundancy interviews professionally and qualitatively, not as an afterthought that your company has to endure.

It not only benefits your company’s reputation. The acclaimed ‘Reputation Institute’ has been scientifically researching elements that influence an organisation’s reputation for more than 20 years. Their conclusion? Emotional attributes or characteristics are more important than rational elements.

A collective expression of dissatisfaction from a hundred individuals recounting their negative dismissal experiences carries significant weight, particularly within the vicinity of their company’s location. The impact may extend beyond local boundaries, evident in the widespread national media coverage surrounding Annick Ruyts’ book Indeed, this holds true even when the experiences are positive. Your company’s social reputation is built not only when hiring employees but also when they leave, if it comes to that.

But your organisation’s internal reputation counts too. How do you get your people engaged again if the human experience surrounding the round of dismissals among colleagues is downright negative? How do you retain the good elements who will be the first to leave the ship if they experience certain human values being compromised?

The ideal dismissal does not exist.  As a golden rule, we advise you to view dismissal interviews not only as a conversation to end a relationship (the solution for the company) but also as a moment that should enable the employee to start something new later (the solution for the employee). Planting seeds that can germinate later.

Even if you think it is far too early to talk about the future at that point, you can still suggest avenues that can help the employee work on his or her own future again, step by step, in the coming weeks. For example, by dwelling on the practical help that an outplacement counselling service or an employment unit can offer.

There are also three ‘dimensions’ that can help you along the way to succeed in your strategic exercise: SPACE, TIME and CLARITY.

Giving SPACE to vent, to listen, to understand.

The impact of a collective dismissal frequently lands on unyielding ground. Employees often feel ‘caught out’. Self-esteem and confidence in the organisation are affected. Frustration, anger, emotionality are often vented at home. Also, with colleagues. It is to the credit of managers if they give employees space to express their feelings. With respect for everyone. In a ‘safe’ environment.

Provide TIME to go through the ‘grieving process’ in its entirety.

The concept of time is subjective in this context. Certain individuals immediately dive into their next endeavors upon resigning, wasting no time between the announcement and their actual departure. Others need time, sometimes a lot of time. Talking, venting helps with this. But at each person’s pace. A manager knows his people. It is his/her job to do so. Don’t leave that to HR alone.

CLARITY is a steady rock.

When all assurances dissipate, our brains often start ‘freewheeling’, no longer listening, no longer wanting to understand. Make sure you have scripts for all managers who will soon have to hold dismissal interviews, in collaboration with HR.

A script explains how best to approach the conversation, what to do in case of emotion, anger, brutal reactions. What to give in writing, in it included the ‘seeds’ that might germinate later.

Do’s-and-don’ts when conducting an employee engagement survey

Measuring employee engagement annually via a survey is a regular practice in many companies. A good thing, if you take this process seriously. This blog shares the do’s-and-don’ts when conducting a  employee engagement survey in your company. Valuable reading for management, hr and anyone who leads people.

Engagement survey? A good idea!

Engaged and loyal employees are the best ambassadors for any organisation. Not surprisingly, the engagement survey is well established at numerous medium sized to large companies. There are quite a few providers on the market that make sending out an engagement questionnaire to all your employees quite easy and that provide you with insightful reports on the results.

But what is the best way to go about this? How do you get the most out of this survey?

Moving beyond HR

A staff survey creates expectations. You offer employees the opportunity to have their voices heard, express their satisfaction and commitment and share any concerns or suggestions. It is therefore logical that they expect something to be done with their input. Think about this in advance. A common pitfall is to appoint only human resources to work with the survey results. But fostering engagement is not just the work of HR. Achieving engagement is an everyday task and has more power through direct managers, with the help of HR.

Communication and customisation as accelerators

Timely and clear communication about the engagement survey with proper framing is necessary to generate impact. One e-mail, often sent centrally, calling for people to complete the survey will get less response than if the questionnaire is additionally framed and motivated by the direct manager, at a team meeting for example or through an additional messaging. It’s important to explain the context, why you are launching this survey and what you will do with the results.

“Can I share my opinion anonymously?” “What happens to my answers after the end of the previous survey?” “How will we be informed about the results?” These are just some of the questions you should answer in your accompanying communication when sending out the survey.

The results are available, now what?

The management team puts its heads together and chooses a number of targeted actions . Driven to move from result to action, they sometimes forget to give proper feedback to employees: What were the main results of the engagement survey? What did we as management learn from it? What are the results we already want to work on or the actions we have already identified?

If you want to get the most out of your employee engagement survey, go one step further and actively involve the employees themselves in working with the survey results: As a manager, enter into a dialogue about your own team’s results, ask for additional interpretation, let team members make their own suggestions or set up small working groups around certain themes.

Say what you do, and do what you say

As well as a few ‘quick fixes’ that can be implemented quickly and are easily visible to everyone, there are also issues that take more time and may be less visible. Employees are often left wondering where the survey has led, and if this is not clear to them, the desire to have their voice heard next time will diminish. Square Circle therefore stresses the importance of communication and follow-up communication.  “Say what you do, and do what you say”. Link back to actions that have been taken or are in progress, and take the liberty to say where you do not plan to invest for example. Continue to involve employees wherever possible and systematically strengthen their commitment to your company.

Square Circle’s senior hr and communication experts are available to strengthen your hr, communication and leadership skills within this framework, making your next edition a success.

Contact Square Circle >>

Listening sessions that reduce distance and increase engagement

Square Circle deepens your employee engagement survey with listening sessions. Confidential group discussions with several employees holding different positions in preparation for or after the survey. They allow you to delve deeper into hot topics, discover drivers and throw up initial solutions. Our experience shows that listening sessions give more meaning to survey results. This leads to higher awareness among management, HR and leaders on the one hand, and to more commitment by staff on the other. A win-win!

Square Circle, on the powerful combination of HR and Communication

From which conviction stems the unique bridge that Square Circle builds between HR and communication? What makes Square Circle both a centre of expertise and a trusted sparring partner for professionals? Partners Katrien Decroos and An Dewaele sit down for an exclusive double interview about Square Circle’s distinguishing factors. An inspiring conversation tailored to corporates, SMEs and experts who want to (further) prioritise their people and their communication.


Hello Katrien, hi An! Let’s go back in time 21 years. What was the mission behind the founding of Square Circle in 2002?

Katrien: “Square Circle was started with the aim of engaging people to grow along with the changing context within their company. Communication and hr are the ideal levers for this. It is crucial in change to get managers and employees on board. If they do not get on board, the hoped-for change or transformation will not happen. What is the potential hidden in change? We help translate high-level plans into effective realisation on the work floor. Anno 2023, we are essentially doing the same as when we started: supporting our clients through change.”

An: “When getting to know Katrien in 2021, it quickly became clear to me that Square Circle’s mission is unique and still relevant. Today more than ever, there is a need to pay attention to the human factor in the business world. It is not processes that ensure that business objectives are achieved. It is exactly the other way round: people get companies moving and help them achieve results. As a result, a focus on communication and HR remains indispensable.”


Three different target groups can call on your expertise: large companies, SMEs and experts. Why this choice?

Katrien: “The division evolved organically from the companies that we have served over the past +20 years. After all, what we do is not limited to one type of company. Regardless of the size order, it pays to initiate and support change in a well-founded and human way.”

An: “True. We want to offer added value to the organisations that engage us. In large firms, for example, we see that support structures and processes are usually in place. The experts are also familiar with the matter. Yet both look to us for additional expertise or capacity and experience. SMEs, on the other hand, are more often somewhat lost.  When a problem arises, we can make big differences with our experience already with small actions.”


Square Circle has a unique selling point. Can you explain the power of communication and HR?

Katrien: “Every business revolves around people, because every company wants to achieve results. You can’t achieve goals without people. From this point of view, you have everything to gain from your employees, from managers to executives, doing their jobs in the best possible way. Staff is not a machine; you don’t have a fitting solution that applies to everyone. It takes time and attention to get and keep people motivated.  What drives them? What tools and resources are appropriate to activate those drivers? Square Circle combines the two domains that make that happen: communication and hr.”

An: “We offer the sum of communications expertise and HR practices, for us an obvious combination for success. But if we are to take our clients and our newest expert, Helena Schalenbourg, at their word, this is quite a special mix. For example, when we assist a company in announcing a new corporate structure or reorganisation, we not only provide the right messaging, but we look at the entire process for the announcement from the perspective of the executives and employees. We prepare the leadership to make the announcement in the most optimal way and to pay attention to aftercare. For example, when a team is downsized, the job is not done after the employees leave the company. Those left behind also go through a change process. This is something you need to pay attention to.”

If today you were allowed to plot the future, what do you wish for Square Circle? Feel free to dream!

Katrien: “Gosh! (laughs) That’s not an easy question to formulate an answer to. Or perhaps it is. I greatly appreciate it when clients we have supported in the past find their way back to us. I hope to build and maintain more of these strong collaborations in the future. My ambition: to remain top of mind with organisations and managers looking for a pragmatic approach to communication and HR-related issues.

In short, to continue to be a centre of expertise and a reliable sparring partner for professionals.”

An: “I agree, our guiding principle is always to be ‘a house of people and communication practices’. In addition, I am looking forward to turning the knowledge we are providing today into tools that can be used immediately. Right now, success sometimes depends on our presence, whereas our years of experience, sector know-how and people knowledge can be fused into hands-on solutions that any company with the same questions can apply. Without wanting to expose too much at the moment, we are in the process of building a support tool for change projects that customers will be able to deploy themselves during the process and work on this independently.”

The future is promising, that much is certain! Thanks for the instructive conversation, Katrien and An.

Do you want to steer your organisation smoothly through a process of change? Strengthen your teams or employees through tailor-made training courses? Contact us and receive additional information without obligation.

Contact Square Circle >>

Square Circle, the story behind the name

For our company name, we draw inspiration from Chinese mythology. There, a square symbolises the earth, where we are, and a circle symbolises the sublime, to which we aspire. Square Circle’s field of activity is the complicated but fascinating force field in between. How can we improve? What does it take to realise a better version of ourselves, our organisation and our teams?

Empowering leaders and teams during a transformation: Head of HR at SABAM shares her experiences with Square Circle

Anyone who has ever organised a party knows Sabam as the Belgian association of authors, composers and publishers that collects copyrights for the music you play. But Sabam is so much more than an administrative collector. On the eve of its 100th anniversary – in January 2022 – new CEO Steven De Keyser presented its future: to be a solid, transparent and reliable partner for authors and users. Helping turn that vision into reality is a daily task for Head of HR Sofie Vlaeminck and her team. They enlisted the help of Square Circle to help support this transition. We asked Sofie to share her experiences with us.


Square Circle: We help companies strengthen their teams and individuals, how have we at Sabam contributed to that?

Sofie: “Sabam is in a big transformation, we have a new CEO who has implemented a different organisational structure with some big shifts for the employees, with a number of employees also moving from an expert role to a leadership role. So we have relied primarily on your support to coach those people in their leadership growth. For them, you also organised a New Leader Assimilation workshop to strengthen the connection between the leader and the team. In addition, you also coached the sales team to introduce a more commercially focused way of working and mapped out a customer journey of our customers.”


Why did you look for our help?

“The transformation is of such magnitude that we quickly felt in our small HR department that we could use some support for this. For example, we also moved to a new, smaller building where only about 100 people can work at a time. So we introduced a new, hybrid way of working In addition, we also went through a year of social negotiations on salary costs. In short, we understood very quickly that we needed support to manage that change.

“The transformation is of such magnitude that we quickly felt in our small HR department that we could use some support for this.”


How have the trajectories gone? What is the feedback from the coachees?

“Very positive. You know, a number of our managers are people who, mainly from their expertise, got the chance to take on a managerial role at some point. But they are not used to people management, Partly thanks to your coaching, we now notice change. For example, a people manager who struggled to hold difficult conversations and until recently always called on our help for this, now does so on her own. There are also managers who are somewhat insecure by nature, but after the coaching they dare to bring up certain things, whereas before this always went through us. The common thread in all trajectories is that our leaders become more autonomous, that we are much less solicited to provide support in certain matters.”

“The common thread in all trajectories is that our leaders become more autonomous, that we are much less solicited to go and support in certain matters.”


What does Square Circle’s help mean for you as an HR team?

“Until recently, HR was the typical payroll HR service. But human resources and working with people did not receive enough attention. We are now trying to make that turnaround. That means mainly focusing on people development, and making sure you create a working environment that is pleasant and in which they have every opportunity to develop themselves. And we cannot do that all by ourselves. When we feel an employee needs more support than we can offer ourselves, we call in external support. Actually, coaching is a job in itself, so why not call in expertise – which may be external – but with people who really have the experience to help someone further in concrete terms? A coach who really works with people day in day out, and who also does this in other organisations, is going to be able to offer support much more from his own experience.”

“It’s actually a specific skill, coaching, so why not call on expertise – which may be external – but with people who really have that experience to help someone concretely move forward?”


How did the collaboration with Square Circle go? Was there anything noteworthy you’d like to share?

“We always started with an intake interview. And we immediately felt – that time was taken to ask questions from different angles so that we got to the heart of the problem. What we also like is that you can offer different profiles as coaches. Depending on the problem, we can then choose a coach who is the best match. We then put you in contact with the coachee, and if that clicks, you’re off. We don’t have to stay so close to it because we know it’s going well and if there would be something, you signal it. And most importantly, we also see results in people.”

“We shouldn’t stay so close to it because we know it is going well and if there would be something, you signal it.”


Would you recommend these cooperation to HR colleagues?

“Yes definitely. The added value is that you have a very broad spectrum of areas in which you can provide guidance. And that you are reliable: the agreements that are made are really kept. You are also open and transparent, so if at any point something is not going well, or if we come up with certain questions, you take the time to solve it.”


Are you, like Sofie Vlaeminck, looking for professional support in a transition within your company or team? We give you access to more than 25 years of

practical experience in HR and Communications. Want to meet to see what we can do for you? We do this while maintaining the strictest confidentiality. Book a no-obligation mini-consultation right away or contact us via our website.

Company Restructuring: HR expert Jo De Cock shares her experiences on working together with Square Circle

Getting a company restructuring right requires a lot of knowledge and skill. Why exactly is it useful to call on external expertise? Katrien Decroos, Senior Communication Expert at Square Circle, asked Jo De Cock, currently Head of HR Western Europe at H.Essers.  At two other companies, she coordinated a reorganisation with the guidance of Square Circle.


Katrien: Why did you find it necessary to engage Square Circle?

Jo: “I have experienced two reorganisations in recent years: a closure with collective redundancies where the Renault Act applied, and another case where several people were made redundant for economic reasons but there was no collective redundancy in the legal sense of the word. In both cases, we realised we needed external help in terms of communication and mapping out all the stakeholders and the actions you take towards them. As a team, you’ve been working on it behind the scenes for a while and then some things seem obvious, while to the employees or the outside world it might not be. That’s when you need someone to hold up a mirror to you and help you take a few steps back and revisit your story. And that’s how I ended up at Square Circle.”


What was the biggest challenge?

“The main question was: how do we best articulate this, taking into account the feelings of each person involved? And: ‘how do you bring a valid story to the press with a balance between the business and human side of the story‘?

After all, your story must make sense on all sides. Because what do people read in the newspaper? X number of jobs are disappearing, nothing more. In the media, the human part of the story is often underexposed. It is important to have that story co-written by someone who has not lived through the whole preparation phase and looks at it with a new perspective.

In the last case, Square Circle also helped to draft a letter to all employees appropriately: on the one hand, explaining why the company is taking such a decision and, on the other, stating that you sincerely realise that this is tough for the employees involved and their families.

In addition, the practical script and roadmap that Square Circle prepares are also incredibly valuable, in addition to the compact but very insightful training for executives.”


How did this roadmap help you?

“It helps to bring structure to the process. The Square Circle team consist of communication professionals and at the same time they know the legislation well and what steps to take.

The existence of such a roadmap that indicates from day to day and sometimes even hour to hour what actions you take to each stakeholder gives you a good grip on things as it can be quite hectic when you are in the midstof a difficult announcement and the weeks that follow. Square Circle has guided such crisis situations very often.

There were actions we didn’t think of, but which they pointed out to us based on their experience. The roadmap structures the communication and legal process in a very good way…”


Can you outline how stressful such a company reorganisation can be?

“An intention to close a part of the business and collectively dismiss employees is never announced lightly.  The weeks before are therefore quite intense.  The day of the announcement itself certainly causes stress: for the first time, you confront employees with an intention that will have dire consequences for them if the intention is confirmed. The realisation that a lot of employees may lose their jobs then comes in sharply. Even in those difficult circumstances, you want to handle things with the utmost respect for the staff. Square Circle has helped us here as well: ensuring that the whole process is done with the right empathy. You must be able to focus on people, which is not always obvious when you are in the middle of a process that also has very strict legal rules.


The role of the press is often problematic in reorganisations. How did that work out for you?

“Both HR and a few top management members have received training from Square Circle on how to deal with the press. That helps to stay in your own story and not get caught up in their questions. I would recommend such a training to anyone.  It prepares you to make your own point in the very short time a journalist allows you and show the human side of the story.


How did the HR department experience Square Circle’s help?

“As an HR department, when there is a collective redundancy, you are very busy dealing with the unions, the information and consultation procedure and afterwards negotiating a social plan. Of course, an announcement that there is an intention to make collective redundancies affects all employees in a company.  Managers are often as surprised as employees.  Their employees then look to them for support and seek reassurance and clarity. The Square Circle training ‘Communication in Uncertain Times’ gave them a very good framework to handle this. It gave them insights into how people react to such news and how to deal with it as a manager. I received very positive feedback from the managers about training. It is valuable that the direct managers also have someone outside HR to take them by the hand for a moment and say: look, this is how you can make it a little easier for your people.”


More insights? Register here to our webinar ‘The do’s and don’ts of a successful communication’ on Tuesday 7 March 2023 or subscribe to our Newsletter and you will soon receive our E-book on this topic.

Rudy Coenen joins Square Circle as a partner

Rudy Coenen joins the team of Katrien Decroos, An Dewaele and Ludovic Goethals with a communication expertise forged by 20 years of experience in leading companies in various sectors such as banking, insurance, asset management, the public sector, training, energy and associations.

With a career marked by diversity, Rudy has been able to embrace all the finer points of the professions linked to corporate communication. He has held several positions related to communication in a broad sense, up to the final responsibility of a communication department. He puts his know-how at the service of companies wishing to engage in a constructive dialogue with all their stakeholders.

At Square Circle, Rudy will use his talents to help companies facing changes and transformations to develop engaging and human communication with a particular focus on exchange, transparency and relational aspects. He will also actively participate in the communication training programme developed by Square Circle and by himself during his career.

Rudy Coenen: “What attracted me to Square Circle, apart from the solid expertise of the partners, was the integrated approach to Human Resources and Communication issues. Starting with a situation, a project or a need related to the human factor in the company, Square Circle will develop a complete solution that will encompass the typical HR or communication aspects in a totally integrated manner in line with the client’s needs. Such an approach is much more effective than the traditional approach where HR or communication experts or consultants go their separate ways”.