What to Expect When Across-the-Board Layoffs are Coming

Some things companies usually consider when they determine who gets laid off.

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Suzanne Lucas

My company just announced "across the board" layoffs. Does that really mean that 5 percent of every department will be cut? The announcement said the entire company will be affected.

Not knowing the inner workings of your company, I can't say for sure what the management has planned. However, in general, it's unlikely that the same percentage will be cut from each department.

[See how to talk about a layoff in an interview.]

Of course, this also depends on how you define "department." If you work for a large company with 30,000 employees, there might be six divisions with about 5,000 employees each. It may very well be a requirement that each of those divisions cut 5 percent of their total. But by the time it rolls down to departments of 10 or 20 people, it's doubtful that precisely 1 out of those 20 people will be cut.

Companies should be looking at the big picture. Here are some factors companies may be considering when they determine who gets laid off:

[See why you should apply for a job that no one else wants.]

1. Products. Which products are doing well? Which products have the potential for growth? Which ones should be phased out? If you are working on a product that is not profitable or is in danger of being phased out, your entire group may be affected. This is not just in manufacturing. If you are the finance guy who supports an ill-performing product, then get your resume up to date.

2. Redundancy. I've head this term used to indicate layoffs, and it's a good one. In larger companies particularly, there are people who do the same work as someone else. Sure, it may be for different products or teams, but a lot of work is duplicated. These people are often more likely to be cut.

3. Cross-training. Remember when your boss asked if you'd like to learn how to do 'x' and you said you didn't have time? Well, bad answer. Companies look closely at which employees have the most flexible skill sets. These are the people they will keep. If you can run only one type of analysis, and the guy sitting across from you knows how to do his analysis and your analysis, you're far more likely to find yourself on the receiving end of a pink slip.

[See the basics on job training.]

4. Pay. It is true that some people are overpaid. (I know that you are not overpaid, but other people are.) Especially when the economy is ailing, there are many unemployed people who are willing to do your job for less than you're paid. Companies will look at salaries, and those who are overpaid may find themselves on the chopping block. This doesn't mean those workers have always been overpaid. It just means that value is not a static thing, and right now there are people willing to work for less money.

Now, should you, yourself, be concerned? Of course you should. You should be constantly networking and keeping your resume up to date. (And, just on a personal note, make sure you back up your resume. I blew up my computer—smoke and everything—and lost my resume. I had older versions, but not the up-to-date one. Now I have to rewrite.)

You can't be 100 percent sure that because you work in a certain department, you'll be safe. Heads will be cut, and you need to be prepared. It's not too late to work on expanding your skills, though. Keep doing that. And hopefully you'll weather this storm.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.

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