Layoff Decisions

Layoff Decisions

In a recent column, I noted that layoffs were “a miserable experience all around:  for the employees affected, those who survived, and also for management who had to do the deed”.

Well, I got some push-back on the last part; someone basically having little sympathy for management and offering to “trade places, anytime”.

I’m used to this.  And yes, I understand this sentiment, especially if you have been laid off or know someone who has.  It’s easy to think that the layoff decisions are made by Catbert the evil HR Director or by some calloused bean-counter.  In some cases, maybe that’s true. But not in my experience.

Let me show you another perspective, and give you a peek behind the curtain.

After working 10 years in the newspaper industry and another decade in engineering services -were  it was feast-or-famine depending on the project- as well as working with grant-based nonprofits,  I’ve had to lay off more employees than I care to recount.

Sometimes a program didn’t get renewed funding and everyone in it had to go.

Sometimes we needed to decrease the payroll by 10% because the economy tanked and revenue dropped.

Sometimes we had over-hired, expecting we’d win a proposal, and then we lost.

Sometimes the business changed focus, or took a new direction, or encountered a disruptive technology -like newspapers and the web.

The reasons varied, but the process was always carefully calculated and painful.  Consider, for example, senior management first taking pay cuts hoping business picked up so we could avoid laying off people.  Then, waiting until the last possible moment, when the business had no other choice.  Or trying to move people into other departments , relocating or retraining them.

Having to make these decisions knowing that someone affected had a baby on the way, or had just closed on a new house, or whose teenager had been diagnosed with cancer, (all of which actually happened) was anything but calloused.

Sound defensive?  I don’t mean to.  In a way, we all have misconceptions about other people’s jobs.  Whenever we think about cops, lawyers, reporters, “the media” we sometimes assume the worst intentions in others. But like I’m sure it’s true in those others often criticized professions, everyone is just trying to do their jobs the best way they can.  So let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. Or better yet, let’s assume the best intentions.

©Copyright Eva Del Rio

Eva Del Rio is creator of HR Box™ – tools for small businesses and startups. Send questions to


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