Monday, November 16, 2009

The True Cost of a Layoff

The world of business has become increasingly dependent on layoffs as a response to a downturn in business. There are layoff announcements virtually every day by companies, along with statements about the expected benefits of a reduced headcount.

Does a layoff really result in the savings to an organization that we think it does?

There are hidden costs that are often not considered (or are ignored) when making the decision to institute a reduction in force. These costs are difficult, if not impossible, to measure, but exist whether they are recognized or not.

Besides the severance and social charges associated with a layoff, the hidden costs show up in areas like productivity, customer service, and absenteeism. Since they are not measurable, however, they are easy to debate and not considered relevant in the number-obsessed world of business.

The hidden costs of layoffs include the following:

Increased Fear: Nothing can increase the level of fear within an organization like a layoff. Fear leads to a host of problems including reduced creativity, safe goal-setting, increased health problems/absenteeism, and a lack of willingness to take risks.

Loss of Teamwork: A layoff forces a person to worry more about his or her own situations than that of a co-worker. The atmosphere becomes more competitive as people do as much as possible to demonstrate their personal value to the company.

Loss of Customer Focus: When a layoff occurs, people turn their focus toward pleasing the boss instead of the customer. After all, it is the boss, not the customer, who makes the decisions regarding who will be released.

Drop in Morale: Layoffs make people feel expendable which, along with the loss of friends and coworkers in the organization, leads to a drop in morale. As a result, dedication is lost, and people will be less likely to contribute ideas for improvement or go the extra mile to help the company succeed.

Increased Employee Turnover: Because remaining employees will begin to worry about their own jobs, those who can find other work elsewhere will do so.

Loss of Trained/Experienced Employees: Losing employees means the loss of trained and experienced people to handle the increase in work when business returns. New employees lack experience with the process, systems and customers, and result in increased hiring and training costs (in addition to a higher incidence of quality problems).

What to Do Instead of Layoffs

Many business leaders have come to the conclusion that layoffs are necessary during a downturn in business. There are steps that companies can take to reduce the need for layoffs - even during a recession as deep as the one we've experienced over the last two years. These actions, which equate to cost management as compared to cost cutting, include the following:
  1. Shorten the workweek and adjust pay accordingly;
  2. Offer unpaid vacations/holidays;
  3. Eliminate overtime;
  4. Freeze all hiring;
  5. Eliminate all bonuses and associated accruals;
  6. Cut dividends;
  7. Focus continual improvement activities on cost reductions.
In addition to the potential savings from the above actions, imagine the loyalty and dedication a company would earn from its employees if it manages to survive the recession without reducing headcount.


Dave Baeckelandt said...

Great points. My former employers (Mercer) who are in the Human Resource Consulting space could learn a great deal from your post here. Kepp up the great work!

Chris200 said...

I agree with all of your point, another thing that suffers is programs and systems. When you layoff key individuals that maintained systems and programs, they will never be the same when a new person is in charge of that activity. The only thing that isn't said here is that the people that make these decisions rarely see the impact of what happen with a layoff, they are keeping their own tails covered.

cfiguy said...

Does anyone else feel like ', I mean ' I mean early '00s redux?

Deja vu, all over again.

Joe Jenney said...

A great post. I have occasionally seen stories about privately managed companies that have followed your ideas when faced with business downturns and time has shown their choice to be effective for the long term. Sorry I can't remember any examples. But, hard to convince managers of public companies of these facts.