Layoffs: who is to blame?
The “blame senior management” angle is old, not to mention intellectually lazy [“Cogs in the Machine,” CIO Confidential, May 1, 2001]. If there ever was an application for chaos theory, human capital management is right up there. There are so many variables with which to contend that I submit it’s beyond the ability of any team of people?management or otherwise?to configure for lifetime employment.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to ensure that you can do something for which someone else will exchange money, goods or services. And while it may not be your fault when the layoff notice comes, it is your fault if you spend an exorbitant amount of time agonizing about what might have been.
There is no protection available?not from management, not from labor unions, not from government. But because no one?especially in this country?is allowed to fail, someone else must be to blame for all of life’s challenges. Oddly enough, management is never called to task for hiring people, only when it lets them go.
James D. Howe
Chief Technology Officer
East Norwalk, Conn.
I found your critique of upper management and the layoff process interesting. I agree with you that in many cases layoffs could be avoided without any net cost to the company. In most cases, the company could benefit by retaining its employees and making better use of them. As you point out, that could be more difficult if unions are involved. The primary tools that are needed to avoid layoffs are foresight and planning.
Over the years I have coached youth sports. One of the lessons I learned is that you can always find a place for someone, as long as they really want to play. Management’s role is to help employees figure out the best way for them to contribute, then to provide opportunities. In organizations in which that happens, great things can be accomplished.
As a manager at a public university, my situation is somewhat similar to that of a youth sports coach. Layoffs are not usually required because of external factors. Termination is not usually an option unless circumstances are dramatic.
Director of Fiscal Services
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
I was laid off in January, along with 11 other employees, when my previous employer closed our consulting practice. We did high-end IT management consulting, but they’ve since laid off 100 additional employees in sales and administration. Politics and management mistakes forced the layoffs, but the stockholders will never know that. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars of business booked and ready to deliver, which the company never saw because we were laid off. And several clients said they would not renew other work with the company because they could no longer trust that the company would deliver.
I figure that we lost our jobs because some clerks could not invoice clients correctly, and management ignored the problem until it was too late. One client asked me for his $59,000 invoice last year so that he could get it paid in his fiscal year?and the clerks sent him a bill for $250,000. They said they’d send the correct one. The next bill was for $50,000?the wrong amount. More than six months later, the clerks still had not issued a correct invoice. If this was one simple project of many in the company, I’m surprised my paychecks didn’t bounce each week.
But what’s $10 million or $20 million anyhow? It’s my job and the jobs of my coworkers.
What a mess. My biggest frustration? Watching all this happening and raising red flags while management drives the company into the ground.
Virtual Process Consulting
This is one of the best articles I’ve read that addresses the real reasons we are experiencing a record number of layoffs. Just recently, I was affected by a second restructuring in my company (a leading provider of enterprisewide solutions for employee relationship management). One of the first questions I addressed to the divisional executive vice president in charge of coordinating my severance was, “How many members of our senior management team were affected by this most recent event?” Needless to say, the question left him flustered and grasping for a politically correct response.
Deloitte & Touche
Thank you for that excellent and perceptively written article. I have recently seen many articles on the subject of layoffs.
I love the analogy to secret societies, because that is precisely how too many of the C-levels regard themselves, and it is how they tend to run the operation’s show. As an older-than-40 female manager, I have constantly had to butt heads (diplomatically, of course) with younger male egos who have attained positions of leadership and ownership.
Good business plans? What a concept. I was recently laid off from a company that, as it turns out, was sliding downhill even before I joined last year. It was not the typical dotcom, because it had a parent holding company that held about a dozen other companies. The parent company stock had been robust and sound for quite a few years, and it had been in business for more than a dozen years. The problem was, it had made dough from using employees recruited oversees in a manner similar to the indentured servant system.
Before I joined the company, I was concerned about the potential for abuse of Third World employees and also for perhaps a certain level of discrimination toward the citizens here. But I did not learn the level of how discouraging the practice of underpaying, overworking and flagrant lying about employee laws was until I became more familiar and acquainted with my colleagues from across the sea and had witnessed firsthand some of the more insidious levels of disrespect that the upper management and owners had for anyone not in the in-crowd.
I am glad to see that you did offer some consolation to the recently laid-off folks with an appeasement that it wasn’t their fault.
It is especially harder for my younger colleagues. They seem to take their first big loss harder on the chin, while dogs like myself pretty much roll with the punches and move on.
Thank you for writing this article. It eloquently states what I have thought for several years. My “termination because of economic reasons” occurred six months ago, and I am starting month seven of a job search. Here in the metro-Phoenix area, there are thousands of employees on the streets. Freedom to move and do something new is a nice optimistic phrase, but it doesn’t pay the bills. It is disheartening to hear of the millions in bonuses paid to people like the ex-CFO of Lucent who screwed up so badly in the short time she was there. People in the circumstances above don’t spend time at a pity party because they cannot afford to. Those millions paid to the ex-CFO could be survival funds for a lot of folks.
And those left behind as layoff survivors are wondering when the other shoe will drop. Will their company ever return?or is all the loyalty, pride, commitment and joy of working there gone forever?