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Firing Aversion
June 7, 2012 5:53 PM   Subscribe

How do managers decide who to lay off?
posted by reenum (52 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
What I want to know is why is it that layoff numbers are always an even number. It's never, say, 13,437 people getting sacked. It's 13,500.

Almost as if more kindling's added to the job-loss fire just to make it look all nice and perfect.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 6:03 PM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Probably because it's easier to remember and say thirteen-thousand-five-hundred then it is thirteen-thousand-four-hundred-and-thirty-seven.

Also law of averages works in reverse too. If only 13,249 jobs were lost, then people can say thirteen-thousand people were sacked.
posted by royalsong at 6:14 PM on June 7, 2012


Or less, runningdogofcapitalism. I've worked on several retrenchment projects, and contrary to popular belief the meeting rooms aren't full of moustache-twirling villains. They're often filled with sympathetic people working to get the best deal they can for employees, and indeed if you actually bothered to read the link you'll see the reasoning is a lot more nuanced and situational than that.

"The scenario gives the managers a great excuse to fire on the basis of profitability alone. But most don't. Instead, they act like normal human beings."
posted by smoke at 6:15 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's in Europe. Do they act like normal human beings in the American corporate scenario?
posted by GnomeChompsky at 6:17 PM on June 7, 2012


What I want to know is why is it that layoff numbers are always an even number. It's never, say, 13,437 people getting sacked. It's 13,500.

I think it's often rounded for presentation. It'd be hard to hit any particular number exactly unless someone in HR's watching the count and getting ready to turn people away.

Plus, how arrogant it would look to insist that exactly 13,437 people should be let go. The deficit to cover is known more specifically than the composition of the cuts.

Anyway, this study is interesting but I would really have liked to know the nuances of each employee's daily duties. I would not want to, for example, part with a good seasoned software developer. A 5-star software architect on the other hand would be less useful in a smaller team.
posted by michaelh at 6:17 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, they draw up a list of everybody but themselves?
posted by uosuaq at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


upsuaq, they probably figure they only need to be on their boss's list.
posted by michaelh at 6:29 PM on June 7, 2012


In the layoff notices I've been involved with, it's always been a percentage of the workforce. So if you have 21,500 employees in a business unit, and you lay off 10%, that's 2150 people. But in the news reports, it shows up as "2,100 employees" or more simply "Over 2,000 employees".
posted by KGMoney at 6:33 PM on June 7, 2012


Why does age enter into it?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:34 PM on June 7, 2012


First, they draw up a list of everybody but themselves?
posted by uosuaq at 6:24 PM on June 7 [+] [!]


Works the same way promotions work: you only have authority to promote or fire people who are below your level.

The people doing the firing don't have the authority to fire anyone at their level or higher, which would include themselves.
posted by xdvesper at 6:35 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's often rounded for presentation.

Well on the projects I have worked on, that's correct. The numbers are never whole numbers because - contrary to the belief of the haters in here - a random number has never been chosen in my experience. Employees are initially selected on the basis of specific criteria, sometimes it's performance, sometimes it's a business function, sometimes it's pay scale etc.

Redundancies etc are a result of trying to address a particular business problem. As such, any given particular number is meaningless; the goal is to address the problem, the number is however many that takes.
posted by smoke at 6:35 PM on June 7, 2012


Why does age enter into it?

Did you read the article? It talks about how in some countries older workers have/are perceived to have enough early retirement options/benefits that them losing their job is less bad than a younger worker losing their job (France is given as an example).

As opposed to countries where managers are more likely to take profit/cost/benefit or performance into account (England, and probably the US).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:40 PM on June 7, 2012


Interesting but this is theoretical. "Here are four hypothetical people, who would you fire?" People like to believe or pretend that they are nice than they are so it would be nice (though unlikely) to see actual data.

In layoff discussions I heard friends struggle over, people's personal circumstances do come into play, ie the person who has a kid with preexisting condition is pretty much the last to go.
posted by shothotbot at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Works the same way promotions work: you only have authority to promote or fire people who are below your level.

I had a boss in a fairly small group once who was told to lay off two people. He picked himself and the newest hire.
posted by atbash at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


Yes, I read the article.

I just find it odd/unfair. Those countries may have more robust retirement/pension schemes, but to assume that you will "be ok" is a bit of a stretch. Don't people who retire tend to die earlier, opposed to those who still work?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:49 PM on June 7, 2012


Works the same way promotions work: you only have authority to promote or fire people who are below your level.
I've often thought that candidates for promotion should be selected by their peers. Sure it may be a popularity contest every now and again but most people would prefer to work under someone competent than an incompetent friend.
posted by fullerine at 6:53 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, I found it really interesting.

I chose 3, BTW.
posted by wilful at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2012


In the lay off situations that I've been involved with, it's been a % based on the lowest performers, i.e bottom 5%. We've looked at past performance and any mitigating circumstances. We've also reached out to other managers to check that any judgements aren't subjective or based on one manager disliking an employee. We've always tried to be fair and humane about it, but frankly it's a horrible task.
posted by arcticseal at 7:27 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


@smoke "Instead, they act like normal human beings."

Evidently you've been asleep for the past fours years or so.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a direct quote from the FA you are clearly too right to bother reading.
posted by smoke at 7:47 PM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


From what I've observed in Australia, for industry layoffs... if the company wants to trim workforce with as little fuss as possible (they can't afford negative publicity) they will just go for a voluntary redundancy - same benefits are paid out regardless, it's just that they make offers to people they think will accept and it's up to them to take it. This will barely rate a mention in the papers aside from an article lamenting the loss of yet more jobs to the slave wages in China.

On the other hand there have also been claims that some involuntary redundancies were made directly targeting troublemakers in the union. This tends to raise the biggest stink in the media, but it does allow the company the huge benefit of getting rid of the most militant union members on the shop floor. Of course it's done saying they had private metrics on performance and its policy to make redundant the bottom 20% but you can't really prove anything either way.
posted by xdvesper at 8:02 PM on June 7, 2012


I don't think that a 46 year old is completely past it or unable to find another job somewhere. But I live in a time where at the moment we're close to full employment. I wonder if I would think harder about firing the 46 year old if unemployment was at 10 percent or something.
posted by wilful at 8:03 PM on June 7, 2012


> From what I've observed in Australia, for industry layoffs... if the company wants to trim workforce with as little fuss as possible (they can't afford negative publicity) they will just go for a voluntary redundancy

Last year QR National (the recently privatised freight division of our state rail) laid off 500 people by way of voluntary redundancies. They had 900 volunteers. It's nice when it works out like that.

> What I want to know is why is it that layoff numbers are always an even number.

The last time a company I worked for went through a round of redundancies we had a dollar target not a head count target. I wasn't true in every case obviously, but I think it resulted in us letting go as few people as possible by letting go of high value employees. For the most part they did indeed quickly kind new jobs as anticipated with their high skill level.
posted by adamt at 8:44 PM on June 7, 2012


Interesting but this is theoretical. "Here are four hypothetical people, who would you fire?" People like to believe or pretend that they are nice than they are so it would be nice (though unlikely) to see actual data.

I agree that the results are speculative, but I don't see how people trying to be "nice" comes into play. Under the hypothetical, they have to fire someone. They don't have the option of being "nice" and firing no one.
posted by John Cohen at 9:19 PM on June 7, 2012


@smoke Actually, I did read the piece. While interesting anecdotally, hypothetical based studies like this just arent all that persuasive. But that's not a knock against the OP, thus a casual observation was tossed in. Grim subjects like this aren't immune from a little humour. But I guess that's lost on you and your precious sensibilities about retrenchment. So by all means, continue boring us with your humourless sanctimony.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 10:05 PM on June 7, 2012


I got fired a couple of years ago because my boss was a sociopath. And also an idiot. He came on board, fired half the staff, engineered a COO position at the company of one of the board members of our org, and quit. I couldn't believe it. How malicious was that? He came on, fired a bunch of people, and left the organization in chaos and confusion (after getting taxpayers to pay his relocation fee from the States to Canada).

Not only that, he got fired from his COO job after six months, the schmuck.

Sometimes managers fire people because the managers themselves are incompetent.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:07 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Grim subjects like this aren't immune from a little humour. But I guess that's lost on you and your precious sensibilities about retrenchment. So by all means, continue boring us with your humourless sanctimony.

Well, I guess one man's humour is another's valueless, thrown-off remark. If you had had to work on projects laying off hundreds of workers, you might share some of my "humorless sanctimony". It's not a fun job for anybody.
posted by smoke at 10:40 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In layoff discussions I heard friends struggle over, people's personal circumstances do come into play, ie the person who has a kid with preexisting condition is pretty much the last to go.

It sucks to be the better or more loyal worker who is let go because someone else has problems at home, but I think this is the best way to do it (to allow some consideration of personal consequences to enter the equation), and from the sound of it, others do too.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:46 PM on June 7, 2012


If you had had to work on projects laying off hundreds of workers, you might share some of my "humorless sanctimony".

Funny enough I got less sympathy with the people doing the firing than those that are fired. With that sort of mass firings, it's never the people who actually fucked up at the top who get the shaft.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


runningdogofcapitalism: "What I want to know is why is it that layoff numbers are always an even number. It's never, say, 13,437 people getting sacked. It's 13,500.

Almost as if more kindling's added to the job-loss fire just to make it look all nice and perfect.
"

For the same reason that the War to End All Wars was continued until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Men died, just to make that cute little joke in the history books.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:25 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the Netherlands we used to have law that provided state benefits for 'disabled' people. And the criteria what counted as disabled where rather forgiving. A lot of companies used that route to get rid of employees that were no longer desired. As a result there was a lot of unemployment hiding in those national disabled percentages.
In NL companies have some responsibilities when they want to fire someone. So that's very much unlike 'at will' employment that's found in the US.
Due diligence, outplacement, goodbye packages can be among the legal responsibilities. So any route that made them exempt from shouldering that burden was popular.
Understanding that kind of force field is essential for making sense of this article.
posted by joost de vries at 11:28 PM on June 7, 2012


potsmokinghippieoverlord: "Why does age enter into it?"

Because this isn't a roulet table. The decision affects the company's future (which is at some risk, or there wouldn't be layoffs), and the future of all involved.

A 25yo can bounce back easier than a 55yo, usually.

A 55yo has probably accumulated a large amount of personal time, and works for a much higher salary, than a 25yo.

Laying off a 55yo means throwing company experience out the door. Laying off a 25yo means throwing up-to-date technical skills out the door.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:30 PM on June 7, 2012


I was the first person in my group to be laid off That Day, at a previous company. A large number followed.

As is usual, we all got back in contact, and formed a sort of support group/network for ourselves, quickly. The person who was laid off right after me told me that when she went in to our boss' office, our boss was already wet with tears.

Folks, if you imagine that layoffs are easy, pleasant, or heartless, ... they aren't. It would take a true sociopath not to feel pain at slicing another person's security so deeply, so quickly.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


smoke: "I think it's often rounded for presentation.

Well on the projects I have worked on, that's correct. The numbers are never whole numbers because - contrary to the belief of the haters in here - a random number has never been chosen in my experience.
"

Yeah, my snark above is probably mostly inappropriate.

OTOH, there are situations where orders come down from on high like "cut 10% of every department", and even numbers could be called out as easily as even percentages.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:35 PM on June 7, 2012


Folks, if you imagine that layoffs are easy, pleasant, or heartless, ... they aren't. It would take a true sociopath not to feel pain at slicing another person's security so deeply, so quickly.

What really rubbed me the wrong way was the fact the bastards had security walk me out of the building. I worked remotely in a location where I had in fact worked for the previous 5 years for different companies. All of the staff in the building knew me, we were all part of the same "community" (I had worked for a non-profit industry association) so it was completely uncalled for and completely bizarre.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:44 PM on June 7, 2012


Why does age enter into it?

In France it is more difficult/costly to fire older or long-employed employees.
It is meant to be protective of people as they near retirement and can't be denied full benefits, but it does have a ton of not so great side effects :

- You almost always have to let go younger employees, which might be a bad strategy moving forward
- It creates a lot of pressure on people between 45-55 years old, as they are old enough to have complicated lives/commitments/money issues, but not old enough to be protected and have a sense that they might be prime targets for a layoff
- It makes company wary of employing anyone over 50, no matter how competent they are.

I'm not in HR but I've been involved in vetting lists of people to be sacked - I can't say it was a pleasant experience to feel constrained by so many rules that you could not keep the people you actually want to retain in the company
posted by motdiem2 at 1:58 AM on June 8, 2012


What really rubbed me the wrong way was the fact the bastards had security walk me out of the building.

I know it must feel awful (I dread it ever happening to me), but apparently the problem is that normally harmless people sometimes snap when they're suddenly slapped down by the company, feel no more allegiance (just the opposite) to the company, but are still physically inside the company.
posted by pracowity at 2:59 AM on June 8, 2012


Sometimes managers fire people because the managers themselves are incompetent.

How do you spell your last name?

By the way, I'm gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow, so if you could be here around 9, that would be great. We lost some people this week, and we sort of need to play catch-up.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:30 AM on June 8, 2012


I agree that the results are speculative, but I don't see how people trying to be "nice" comes into play

I meant by analogy. If you ask people if they would hire a black in the us they say yes, if you send out identical resumes, the one with the "black" name does not get the interview
posted by shothotbot at 4:52 AM on June 8, 2012


No wonder Germany is doing well. Keeping experienced, but more expensive workers is a direct benefit to the company, but in the long term rather than the short term. Doing round after round of layoffs of the people who have the institutional knowledge to actually fix the problem has always struck me as massively short-sighted.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:07 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


In layoff discussions I heard friends struggle over, people's personal circumstances do come into play, ie the person who has a kid with preexisting condition is pretty much the last to go.

The last time I was laid off, it was less than a month after my SAHD husband unexpectedly walked out on me and our infant child. I had just managed to establish reliable child care. I didn't have any family in town. I was the only person with a child, and now the only unpartnered person, at the small company. One day it was "let us know if there's anything at all we can do" and the next it was "profits haven't been what we hoped this year..."

That was years ago, and it really did destroy my ability to ever feel safe at a job again. I'm still bitter about it, obviously, but it's kind of nice to hear that most managers would have chosen differently.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:21 AM on June 8, 2012


No wonder Germany is doing well. Keeping experienced, but more expensive workers is a direct benefit to the company, but in the long term rather than the short term.

Except the study is from 2001, when not only was Germany not doing particularly well, it was widely considered the "sick man of Europe," a condition that has been changed through, among other things, labor market reforms.

Though I understand taking into account "personal circumstances," I have to say, it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. As a twentysomething, I'm fine making a lower wage than a more experienced worker if that person is more highly skilled (either on a general level or with company-specific knowledge). But to retain inferior workers on the basis of age-driven circumstances (e.g. you have kids) strikes me as uncomfortably reminiscent of the old justification for paying men more than women--that the men are supporting a family. In fact, one of the reasons people often put off those sorts of steps in their twenties is job insecurity. I guess what I'm saying is, it's not necessarily the "nice" solution to keep the 46-year-old worker with the mortgage and kids, if the more-competent 29-year-old worker would like to settle down but can't because he can't find steady employment.
posted by dsfan at 7:46 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every layoff I've seen go by in my workplaces, the choices were fully explainable entirely by the criticality of the project the employee was working on at that particular time, and the criticality of that employee to that particular project. If the layoffs had occurred 3 months earlier or later, the list would have been different.

I've never been in a work situation where management had the luxury of thinking about the employee's overall skillset, history, or relationship to the company as a whole: they've always been forced into the perspective "how do I do this without cratering the work that's going on right now and essentially destroying the plan we've all been operating under up to this moment?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:13 AM on June 8, 2012


The fact that the study is from 2001 when Germany was struggling rather underlines what I was saying. Which is that making longer term choices can hurt in the short term, but help in the mid- to long-term. If the choice is between 2 and 3 who have exactly the same performance, it's easy to make a case that one should get rid of the most expensive employee. That doesn't mean it's always the smartest decision.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:33 AM on June 8, 2012


Personally, the idea that I can lose my job not because I'm a bad employee but because I don't have kids or sad personal circumstances about which I've told work is pretty unpleasant.
posted by winna at 8:53 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


motdiem: "In France it is more difficult/costly to fire older or long-employed employees."
Actually, the article points out that the French managers chose to fire the older worker due to early retirement rules in their country. From the article:
"The older employee is 'given a gift' as some French respondents put it. He no longer must trudge into the office and work but happily retains a large part of his salary."
posted by Crash at 8:58 AM on June 8, 2012


Funnily enough, a few weeks before I was "laid off", I helped organize a conference where Keith Krach spoke - I sat at his table during lunch.

Anyway, Krach is one of those people hailed as an entrepreneur, a builder of companies, but apparently he doesn't self-identify as a job creator, because his big message of the day - and this was in 2009 when we were only a couple of years into the "recession" was that it's important to cut employees.

Why? To improve margins, get in a position to sell the company, yadda yadda yadda.

Fundamentally, often the people that run the show view employees as a resource, nothing more, and the less of them, the better. I think it's misguided, because often the managers who ape this sort of worldview have little idea of what it means, and are in fact unable to run a profitable company (that's why people like Krach swoop in, do some deals, and sell - they can't be bothered with building a company).

But it was really chilling to hear Krach tell the room, all composed of people who run "research parks" in North America, supposed to be tasked with building a knowledge economy and presumably creating high-paying jobs, that the thing to do in tough times is to cut employees.

Another sociopath.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2012


> continue boring us with your humourless sanctimony.

While you bore us with your own little brand of sanctimony. Got it.
posted by kjs3 at 9:56 AM on June 8, 2012


I am not bored by either of the sanctimonious parties in fact, we have had an unfortunate downturn in the demand for sanctimony in the last two quarters, meaning we have a bunch of redundancy in that department. This hurts me to say but YER FIRED
posted by spicynuts at 10:49 AM on June 8, 2012


Fundamentally, often the people that run the show view employees as a resource, nothing more, and the less of them, the better. I think it's misguided, because often the managers who ape this sort of worldview have little idea of what it means, and are in fact unable to run a profitable company (that's why people like Krach swoop in, do some deals, and sell - they can't be bothered with building a company).

But it was really chilling to hear Krach tell the room, all composed of people who run "research parks" in North America, supposed to be tasked with building a knowledge economy and presumably creating high-paying jobs, that the thing to do in tough times is to cut employees.

Another sociopath.


I assume this means that when you purchase a service, you buy extra? Two haircuts, just in case? Let the plumber bill extra hours? Two identical cars, just in case one breaks?
posted by gjc at 7:57 PM on June 8, 2012


We're talking about the social contract, not labour as cogs in a machine that ultimately makes a few people rich.

Keith Krach has every right to pursue a career as an entrepreneur (or, more correctly, pursue a career where he discusses being an entrepreneur) but in the context of his speech - he was talking to government employees and the operators of technology parks - it seems very strange that government should facilitate just a few people getting rich by using the expendable talents of a large number of workers who can be cut when the going gets tough.

The event was sponsored by a government agency (the agency I worked for) that was tasked with building a knowledge economy, and in my mind and in my sense of mission, it was about more than helping a limited number of entrepreneurs to get rich. That's not what being a public servant was all about, and it was disgusting to see my sociopathic, incompetent boss aping seemingly competent sociopaths like Keith Krach.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:15 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


potsmokinghippieoverlord: "Why does age enter into it?"

When I was laid off a number of years ago, they gave each of us (300+) a list of the other positions that had gone away, to include the ages of each person. I was told this was done to preclude anyone from bringing age-discrimination lawsuits.
posted by dwbrant at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2012


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