How Big Companies Choose Who Is Laid Off
Soon after a company decides to cut its head count, the debate begins: Who should go?
In the current economic environment, a final decision can take weeks, according to executives and corporate advisers. Workers remain in short supply, raising the stakes of determining who is expendable and who is worth keeping. With layoffs that target corporate staff, department heads often take the lead and human resources troubleshoots their lists, which can lead to intense debate and multiple rewrites.
“There is no good way to do this,” said Gregory DeLapp, a human-resources executive who spent much of his career at the steel and materials manufacturer Carpenter Technology Corp. in Pennsylvania, where he helped conduct layoffs. “Ultimately, someone’s unfairly treated in the end.”
“这种事没有什么好办法。”人力资源高管格里高利·德莱普（Gregory DeLapp）说，“最后，会有人受到不公平的对待。”德莱普的大部分职业生涯都在Carpenter Technology Corp.度过，他帮助这家宾夕法尼亚州的钢铁与材料制造商实施过裁员。
The process is playing out across the corporate sphere. In recent weeks, companies as varied as Salesforce Inc., Hasbro Inc., Dow Inc. and others have announced job cuts. Amazon.com Inc. last Monday said it was eliminating 9,000 more jobs, following previously announced layoffs.
眼下，企业界正掀起裁员潮。最近几周，Salesforce Inc.、孩之宝（Hasbro Inc.）、陶氏公司（Dow Inc.）等各行各业的企业纷纷宣布了裁员计划。亚马逊（Amazon.com Inc.）在3月20日表示，继先前宣布裁员后，还将裁减9,000余个岗位。
Seniority once guided layoffs at many U.S. businesses, with companies eliminating junior employees first. Today it is more common for companies to conduct layoffs based on skills rather than tenure, according to human-resources executives. An employee’s recent performance will likely factor heavily into any decision. Employees with high salaries also might face greater attention, though advisers said those workers might be among a company’s top performers.
At many companies, top leaders, including the chief executive officer and chief financial officer, often set high-level criteria for a layoff, mandating that a company cut a certain percentage of its workforce, for example, or reach a specified cost savings. Some confine layoffs to specific areas. Boeing Co. earlier this year said it planned to cut 2,000 jobs primarily in finance and human resources, while hiring in engineering. Amazon said its latest cuts would mostly be concentrated in its cloud-computing, advertising and Twitch streaming businesses.
The task of deciding who should be eliminated often falls to divisional leaders and department heads, according to executives. The business-software company Okta Inc. in February said it would cut 300 employees, or 5% of staff, after the company said it overhired during the pandemic. Many departments across the company were given specific financial cost-cutting targets to meet, said CEO Todd McKinnon, and did so in different ways.
据高管们说，决定人员去留的任务通常会落在业务分管领导与部门主管身上。商务软件公司Okta Inc. 2月表示将裁员300人，约占员工比例的5%，此前该公司称其在新冠疫情期间招聘力度过大。Okta首席执行官托德·麦金农（Todd McKinnon）说，公司许多部门都被分配了财务上具体的成本削减目标，并以不同方式实现了各自的目标。
Innovation and product-development teams gave priority to keeping people who were working on projects and goals that seemed achievable in a three-year timeline versus a five-year one, he said. Okta eliminated some salespeople focused on small and medium-size businesses in North America.
Executives asked: “Where is the business? Where do we need investments?” Mr. McKinnon said, adding that the layoffs coincided with Okta’s annual planning process, which helped in determining which initiatives deserved attention and which could be jettisoned. “It was a difficult thing to go through, and difficult decisions.”
Many think it is the job of human-resources staffers to select the individual employees to terminate, though it is often far more likely that the business leaders in each area of a company suggest names of employees to target, said Kathy Zwickert, a former chief people officer at NetSuite and most recently a director at the cloud-based software provider Avalara.
“HR is not in control over who’s coming and going,” said Ms. Zwickert.
She said she has seen situations in which department leaders are told to come up with a proposed list of individuals to lay off based on a set criteria. That could include anyone who got a low rating in a recent performance review, or who joined the company in the past six months. Managers will then compile a list of employees to let go, often giving the layoff document a code name such as “Project Falcon,” so the file’s purpose is unclear if it is accidentally discovered by another employee, she said.
In addition to reviewing an employee’s performance history, many companies consider workers’ potential to adapt and take on new jobs in the future. “It’s really down to a one-on-one assessment of performance in determining who you’re going to keep,” said Paul J. Sarvadi, CEO of Insperity Inc., a human-resources services and outsourcing company.
除了评估员工的过往表现，许多企业还会考虑员工未来适应和承担新工作的潜力。“在决定要留下谁时，说到底其实就是在进行一对一的绩效评估。”人力资源服务及外包公司Insperity Inc.首席执行官保罗·J·萨瓦迪（Paul J. Sarvadi）说。
Once individual employees are identified, human-resources staffers then work to scrub the list, looking to see if a company is, for example, disproportionately laying off people over the age of 40, or unfairly targeting minorities, veterans or other groups, Ms. Zwickert said. Any such discrimination could open an employer to a lawsuit. Companies at times also rely on outside help in that process, buying tools or engaging lawyers to sift through a layoff list to identify possible red flags.
Sarah Rodehorst, CEO of Onwards HR, whose software performs a statistical analysis during terminations to see if certain groups are adversely affected, said such reviews can uncover other problems. On a list of layoff candidates, a company might find it is about to fire inadvertently an employee who previously opened a complaint against a manager – a move that could be seen as retaliation, she said. “It’s so important to get this right,” she added.
Onwards HR首席执行官萨拉·罗德霍斯特（Sarah Rodehorst）说，这类审查有可能发现其他问题。在裁员名单中，企业也许会发现，它无意中将裁掉一名之前曾投诉过某位管理者的员工——此时，裁员可能被视为报复，她说，“正确处理这个问题非常重要。”Onwards HR的软件可以在员工离职期间展开统计分析，以判断特定群体是否受到不利影响。
Some companies develop a draft of a layoff list in as short as a week, though many take a month to eight weeks to identify employees and develop a comprehensive plan for letting them go, said George Penn, managing vice president in the HR practice of Gartner Inc., where he has advised companies on layoffs and other issues.
有些企业在短短一周内就能制定出拟裁员名单，但许多企业都需要一个月到八周时间来确定人员名单，同时制定出一套详细的离职方案，Gartner Inc.人力资源业务常务副总裁乔治·佩恩（George Penn）说。他曾在裁员等问题上为企业提供咨询。
Debates are frequent. Some managers might attempt to jockey for certain employees to remain, and disputes can emerge between leaders about the philosophy of a layoff—say, whether to cut a layer of middle management, or to fire more executives over front-line employees, Mr. Penn said.
Even when companies decide to shut down entire business units, executives might make decisions to keep some high-achieving employees and move them elsewhere, said Anna A. Tavis, a former global director of talent at the insurer American International Group Inc., who now teaches and researches human-capital management issues at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.
即便企业决定关掉整个业务部门，高管们也可能会留下一些表现出色的员工，将他们安排到其他地方，安娜·A·塔维斯（Anna A. Tavis）这样说。她曾担任保险商美国国际集团（American International Group Inc.）全球人才主管，目前在纽约大学（New York University）职业研究学院（School of Professional Studies）教授及研究人力资本管理问题。
“There’s a lot of subjectivity involved, even with all the rules in place,” she said.