Thoughts on downsizing…


During my HR executive career, I had many more opportunities to help my employers with downsizing drills than I care to remember. Today, it seems news of company layoffs permeates the professional landscape.

If you’ve ever found yourself on the receiving end of a layoff, you understand the profound personal impact it can have. Everyone who experiences it goes through an emotional process of questioning their worth and their place in the world. It’s impossible not to take it personally.

And if you’ve been on the “surviving” end, the aftermath can be equally daunting. Before you can even process the survivor’s guilt, you’re likely to be faced with an abundance of broken processes and an overwhelming influx of new responsibilities. And while the layoff victims are likely to be offered some kind of outplacement support from the company, you’re on your own to figure out a workable path forward.

I remember some occasions early in my career when I was far enough away from the corporate decision-makers to be absolutely mystified by their conclusions. It seemed like we had worked hard to build skills and processes that hummed like a well-oiled machine and produced successful results, only to have a big impersonal hand of fate come smashing down to intentionally break what we had built – for it.


As my career progressed, I learned that employer decisions regarding downsizing are not generally made lightly, nor based simply on the whims of greedy shareholders.

There’s a complex web of factors at play, including competitive pressures and industry benchmarks, in addition to the pursuit of efficiency and profitability. In the end, the decisions are made with the long-term health and sustainability of the company in mind.

That hits at the core of what I believe HR is all about – a sustainable relationship between what’s good for the company and what’s good for the people. In our hyper-competitive world, companies that don’t pay constant attention to maximizing returns on their investments, including labor, don’t survive and continue to employ people.

And intentionally “breaking” the existing processes and structures? That’s a strategic tactic organizations actually use. They look at what’s happening in the industry at a macro level and determine it’s possible to improve the company’s “return on labor” – to optimize the workforce’s efficiency and productivity (AKA do more with less).

The decision-makers generally have no idea how to pull it off at the micro level – but they trust that the employees who are intimately familiar with the work will have the creativity and ingenuity to figure it out.

There’s never an intention that employees will suddenly, magically, go from doing one full-time job to doing many. What they’re expecting is for you to “work smarter, not harder.”

If you’re going to thrive, not just survive, that’s your assignment.

My friend and mentor Steve Moss has written about how to thrive if you’re part of the “left behind” group. I highly recommend his blog article, where you can find some great support, ideas, and practical tools to help you successfully navigate the aftermath of a downsizing.

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson is an expert consultant to businesses and a powerful coach to individuals. After a long and rich career as a strategic HR executive, she is driven to give back by changing the Human Experience in today’s workplaces, one business or human at a time.

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