Thomas Cook: What to do if your business goes bust

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Thomas Cook went into compulsory liquidation on 23 September, plunging thousands of employees into uncertainty

If you’re a colleague at Thomas Cook, no matter what your position within the business, you have probably been expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

This is just as we all were at Woolworths back in 2008, when the financial crisis hit and the rejection of a deal with restructuring specialist Hilco UK by Woolworth Group’s banks (who proposed to buy the retail arm for a nominal £1) forced the group to place the retail business and Entertainment UK into administration. I was head of resourcing and talent at the time, having been with the business since 1996.

Every person in Thomas Cook will have different thoughts and emotions going through their heads and they are of course natural. When Woolworths went into administration we experienced frustration, sadness, anger and just a complete lack of ability to help our colleagues across the business.

But after a few days the HR team at Thomas Cook, just as it did at Woolworths, will start to regain its ability to make a difference – and there is loads that you can do.

If there is an administrator talk with them. They have a job to do just like the HR team so identify ways you can help them and vice versa.

From a practicable perspective you need to give your colleagues as much help and advice as you can. The Department for Work and Pensions can be really helpful in ensuring that colleagues understand what they are entitled to and how to access it. Get in touch with them, administrator permitting, and get them into the business as quickly as possible.

Then start utilising your HR networks because that is how you are going to help not only your colleagues but yourself as well. The Thomas Cook resourcing team will be key here. They will have a huge network of colleagues across many sectors, all of whom are looking to recruit people as effectively as possible.

At Woolworths we worked with our IT function who helped us to create a website through which we were able to make information available to every colleague. But the real benefit of this site was that it gave us an ability to advertise existing vacancies, which we secured through our existing networks. We believe that up to 4,000 colleagues managed to secure new roles through the site.

The other thing that the HR team has to do is look after each other. The HR team will be providing a lot of support and guidance and, at the same time, trying to come to terms with the very real personal impact that it has on them.

The next few days and weeks will be difficult. If your experience in HR is similar to ours you won’t learn too much about the process of administration. However, you will be reminded that, with a positive mindset and a genuine conviction to make a difference for your colleagues, you will be able to come up with new ways to help each other and yourselves into the next stages of your career journeys.

Iain Lewis is HR director at Howdens

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