Standard 17: Managing human resource transitions responsibly during project close-out.
Ensure continuity of adequate, qualified staff throughout close-out to fulfill commitments to all stakeholders.
Closely monitor close-out staffing plans and work with project staff to manage their separation from or transition within CRS.
Close-out is the most challenging phase of project human resource management. Staff separations from a project involve practical coverage issues as well as legal and emotional matters. Multiple separations may take place at the same time, and the larger a project’s staff, the more likely this is to take place. Significant planning and oversight are required to make project human resource close-out as smooth as possible for employees, their organizations, and other project stakeholders. Proactively managing staff separation from or transition within CRS:
- Helps maintain staff morale during what can be a challenging period.
- Contributes to responsible close-out.
- Streamlines human resources procedures for maximum efficiency.
- Helps CRS advance its mission, by upholding the agency’s commitment to respecting the dignity of all people, including its employees, and by protecting CRS from liability around staff separation.
- Primary responsible: Project manager (PM) or chief of party (CoP)
- The PM/CoP takes the lead in monitoring the close-out staffing plan and assisting project staff to transition within or outside of CRS.
- Others involved: Head of programming (HoP); head of operations (HoOps); human resources (HR) staff; country representative (CR) and senior management team (SMT)
- The HoP supports the PM/CoP by providing information and advice on close-out staffing arrangements;
- HR and the HoOps prepare necessary paperwork for individual staff members and coordinate with legal counsel regarding staff separations, as needed;
- The CR and other SMT members provide support as needed.
- For multi-year projects: After development of project close-out staffing plans, with more intensive monitoring of plans beginning 6 months before the project end date.
- For projects of 12 months or less: After development of project close-out staffing plans, with more intensive monitoring beginning 3 months before the project end date.
Follow these steps to monitor close-out staffing plans and to work with project staff to manage their separation from or transition within CRS:
- Once the PM/CoP and SMT have analyzed transition options (see Standard 17, key action 1 for guidance), the PM/CoP, with support as needed from the HoP, HR manager, and/or CR, meets with project staff to discuss project close-out staffing plans and the transition options or support that CRS may be able to offer.
- Click here for a list of Key points to keep in mind for these meetings:
- If there are many project staff likely to be similarly affected by project close-out, a joint meeting may be most appropriate. Talking points may be helpful for such meetings.
- When close-out occurs in a rapid or unexpected manner (e.g., due to unexpected donor decisions), meetings with individual staff are often best.
- If many individual meetings are needed, consider enlisting the support of senior managers. Ensure they are properly oriented to the key issues and are clear on both what they should discuss in the meetings with individual staff, and what issues to refer to HR.
- Be prepared to answer staff’s questions around payment, leave time, and other job options. Especially when large numbers of staff may be affected, the PM/CoP and HR staff may consider developing a “Frequently Asked Questions” document, summarizing key information around severance, leave time, etc.
- Emphasize the importance of each staff member’s role in ensuring CRS’ accountability to project stakeholders and a strong conclusion to the project.
- Further explore staff members’ post-project interests and discuss how retention and transition options might fit their plans.
- Be sure to discuss issues that may affect the project close-out schedule and budget, such as using accrued leave time before the end of project team member’s contract, particularly if some staff members will be separating from CRS.
- Emphasize the importance of open communication between project staff and the PM/CoP and senior leadership about staff post-project interests and plans.
- Consider organizing separate follow up meetings, one for international staff and one for national staff, as their benefits and policies differ. For smaller 1550 projects or other small externally-funded projects, such a group meeting may not be necessary.
Managing morale during close out: Boost morale through clear, timely, and complete communication as well as by maintaining the integrity of the close-out process. Plan time for multiple meetings, both group and individual, to make sure staff can ask and receive answers to their questions. Outline the steps that will be taken and stick to those steps. Good practice is to offer support for separating staff in the form of assistance with writing resumes or sharing information about job fairs. Showing CRS’ respect for and understanding of each staff person’s situation will help make the process as smooth as possible. On the other hand, no matter how well you plan, if you do not pay attention to the emotional aspects of project closure, separation can become a very problematic process. HR and wider country program leadership should support supervisors to deal with the inevitable dip in morale among staff who remain with CRS as colleagues depart. Create opportunities during staff meetings to discuss morale with those staff members who remain.
- The PM/CoP and HoP, with HR staff support as needed, check in regularly with project team members to discuss the overall project HR close-out plan, and schedule individual follow-up meetings as needed.
Pay special attention to follow-up with field-based project staff: It’s important to recognize that staff based in field locations or separate project offices may feel particularly isolated or experience even greater dips in morale as the project end-date approaches and staff depart the project. Ensure that project and country program leaders visit field/project offices more frequently during the project period (consider setting up a visit to the field office by HR staff). Where possible, facilitate visits to the main office for field-based staff separating from CRS, so they can finalize HR processes in and say their goodbyes to colleagues in the main office.
- The PM/CoP actively manages the staffing budget throughout closeout, adjusting it based on staffing changes, and informing finance staff of budgetary impacts of staffing changes.
For staff transitioning to new roles/projects within CRS
- Once a staff member has applied for and been offered a new position, the HoP and PM/CoP work with the employee and the person’s new supervisor to determine an appropriate transition date for the employee, ideally not before the current project ends.
- The HoP and HR assist the employee to follow appropriate HR policies for position transfers (as applicable, reference POL-HRD-INT-0019: Position transfers).
For staff separating from CRS
- For staff whose employment with CRS will end with the project, HR staff with support from the HoOps reviews local law and the CRS country program personnel manual to ensure compliance with local practices and to protect the agency from future liability. Keep the following points in mind:
- Pay special attention to requirements around providing advance notice of termination.
- For international staff, consult the CRS Personnel Policy Manual regarding termination (see CRS Resignation/Termination policy).
- If the project includes different types of staff contracts (long-term, short-term, etc), make sure to follow the appropriate termination process for each type of contract.
- If the project is closing earlier than planned, work with HoOps and legal counsel to determine how to do so without incurring legal liabilities.
- The HR staff reviews local project staff’s accrued unused vacation and prepares a summary of the total unused days for each employee. Using this information and international staff leave balance information as needed, the PM/CoP works with all project team members to develop a schedule for employees to take accrued unused vacation days prior to separation, if feasible and appropriate.
- Work with the project team to arrange adequate coverage of project team members’ responsibilities, especially if multiple staff need to take accrued leave.
- If payment for unused vacation days is available, the PM/CoP and HR should discuss that option with staff (and factor this into close-out cash forecasts).
- The HR staff prepares the paperwork for severance (e.g. notice of termination/order for termination, certificate of service/labor book, financial and benefits disclaimer forms, etc.).
- Arrange for local counsel review of termination documents.
- Review all personnel files and ensure all documents are on file as required for retention per local law.
Planning for mass separation: For projects with large numbers of staff, close collaboration and planning between the PM/CoP and HR is particularly important to facilitate what can be a time consuming, emotional process of mass separation. Streamline the process so that, for example, HR determines vacation leave balances for all staff simultaneously. This will save time while also ensuring that all staff issues are handled in the same way, at the same time to the extent possible. It should be noted that there may be a few different types of contracts in use (e.g. defined and indefinite contracts). If so, ensure that they are handled in a balanced and coordinated fashion.
- The HR staff prepares a list of job search resources available in the country (job search consultancies, job fairs, job search websites) and shares with staff.
- Consider organizing a workshop to help staff create CVs and prepare for interviews.
- Consider other staff transition support options such as job referrals, etc.
- The HR staff retains the relevant records for each separating staff, in compliance with CRS policy and local labor law, and removes staff from relevant CRS databases (e.g., the National Employee Database (NED)).
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Accompany partners as they develop and implement their own staffing close-out plans. See Standard 17, key action 4 for more detailed guidance on supporting partners with HR close-out.
- Keep partners informed of changes in CRS’ project staffing. For example, if a position that works closely with a partner is scheduled to be phased out before the end of the project, or if a CRS project staff transitions or separates earlier than planned, make sure to update the partner and clarify who is covering the former project staff member’s responsibilities.
- When CRS is a sub-recipient, review the sub-recipient agreement carefully and ensure any staff retention strategies are consistent with agreement terms.
- Communication around staffing issues is even more important in an emergency, particularly for large projects with many staff members, some of whom may not have had much work experience prior to working on the emergency project. For example, when emergencies occur in remote areas, project staffing may include individuals for whom the project may be their first formal job – and one on which their extended family is dependent. Pay special attention to explaining separation procedures and conditions to in such cases.
- Close communication between the PM/CoP and HR staff is even more important in emergency projects, as emergency project timelines for close-out can change quickly and unexpectedly. For example, while it’s not a common scenario, donors who have not fully obligated approved emergency project funding may ultimately be unable meet the full funding commitment, which can lead to CRS ending emergency project activities earlier than planned.
- Rigorous management of staff contracts is even more critical in emergencies.
Policies and procedures
Employee Exit Clearance Checklist (Example from CRS Nigeria)
- Primary responsible: Project manager (PM) or chief of party (CoP)