Bah, humbug–reduction in force in the holiday season
April 26, 2022
by Lance

’Tis the season for holiday cheer, max’d credit cards, and joyful gatherings. And every year around this time we hear at these gatherings of some poor soul who has lost their job in the run up to this merry season. What should we make of the Scrooges that wrote out pink slips in the season of red and green? RIFs (reduction in force) and layoffs seem inharmonious to say the least.

If an executive team comes to the conclusion in November that some employees must go, should they hold off until the New Year so as not to be labeled “heartless”? The answer is probably no, from both the perspective of the employee as well as the perspective of the employer.

From a competitiveness standpoint, executives should generally act as fast as they get the information they need to make a reasonably confident decision. Speed is critical in business. In fact, the most likely scenario is that the executives knew in August that this is what they had to do and weren’t as fast as they should have been. If so, they really should be criticized for that. I once had delayed closing down a project for a couple of months while I gather more definitive data when I really knew in my gut how it was going to turn out. During that time the economy chilled and instead of causing people to look for a new job in reasonably good times, they were forced to go job hunting in the teeth of a severe downturn. I didn’t do them any favors by making sure that I wasn’t making a mistake. My PowerPoint explaining my reasoning looked better, but in reality my performance was worse. As I pointed out elsewhere, most executives make the mistake of deciding too slowly, not too quickly. So, generally, if executives know that people have to go, they should not wait.

But what about the employee who is, after all, a person, not just an expense number? By knowing what is going on (sufficiently) before the holidays that person can do two important things: control spending and network. The holiday season is a time when people’s credit cards positively glow with use on presents and vacations. We know that it is really not true to the spirit of the season and certainly not necessary, but most of us succumb to the advertising pressure to do it anyway. Under the shadow of the ax, baking brownies to give away as presents and vacationing around the home hearth is a lot more prudent without doing damage to the spirit of the season. And the holidays are a time of joyful gatherings of friends and relatives. While you won’t feel quite so joyful with a pink slip in your pocket, what a great time to put the word out that you are ready for something new.

None of this is meant to rationalize treating people poorly. If an executive no longer feels bad about letting people go, in any season, then they really have become Scrooge and they should retire. And there are all sorts of humane and inhumane ways to tell people bad news. But waiting until the New Year doesn’t make it better. I believe it makes it worse, for everyone.