US career development consultant Caela Farren recently asked eight questions on the HR.com website to help people answer this all-important question.
While Kiwi bosses and recruitment agencies appear to largely agree with Farren's analysis, they note that each country has its own special characteristics. Farren asks:
- Is your job crucial to the organisation’s purpose and mission?
- Is your job close to the customer?
- Is your job directly related to income and the bottom line and not seen as an overhead?
- Do changes in technology make your job more important for the success of the organisation?
- Do key people in the organisation know the contribution your job makes to the bottom line?
- Would it be difficult to outsource your work?*Have you achieved mastery in your profession and are seen as irreplaceable?
- Have you acquired the skills necessary to keep pace with changes in your industry?
“People who are masterful in their profession, are well-known by the leaders of the organisation and whose work is critical to the well-being of customers have a better chance of weathering layoffs,” she says.
But, as our local commentators also note, layoffs are usually about reducing overhead costs and people’s skills may not come into it.
Jan McKenzie of Candle IT&T recruitment says payroll is always the largest cost and easiest to identify, and when companies have grown too fast, the “knee-jerk reaction” is to lay-off staff. Consequently, people need to consider the above questions and not feel complacent.
John O’Hara, chairman of business process software company Infolink, says people need to be able to measure the contribution they make to their employer and be able to demonstrate this effectively. Being aware of this helps them justify their position, should the issue of redundancy be raised.
David Allen, general manager of recruitment firm Sabre New Zealand, says a job is not created unless it can be measured in terms of value or output. However, Allen says the main reason for layoffs is that acquisitions and mergers leave multiple people fulfilling the same task.
Companies are very “dollar-result driven”, he says, but if life was so logical and orderly most mergers would see Australian companies move their head offices to New Zealand because Kiwis are generally more efficient and cheaper.
“However, politics and head office-itis rules, where the larger party usually wins, but not necessarily on merit. While the human factor prevails total logic will not apply,” he says.
Waitemata Health IT chief Ray Delaney confirms that the human factor matters. “People who try to make themselves ‘irreplaceable' actually end up making themselves a target,” he says. “Everyone knows a technocrat somewhere who makes everyone’s life miserable. In the end these people end up without support when the axe comes out, and it’s that support that is essential for survival. I personally don’t think anyone is irreplaceable.
“For IT people in general, I think the most useful skill to develop is the ability to relate well to [all types of] people. This is what I look for when hiring at all levels, and it is people with these skills that are retained in the long run,” Delany says.
However, for firms thinking of weilding the axe, McKenzie offers several warnings. Laying off staff, she says, leads to a “loss of institutional knowledge” such as that which relationships build between customers and suppliers, external and internal networks built up by staff, management and leadership skills, plus much other knowledge that is not necessarily technical.
When jobs start being shed, not only is it demoralising for those left behind, which impacts on their productivity, people wonder when it might be their turn or think “is the firm going under?”, she says. They then start casting their net around, especially the really talented you might want to keep.
“So the company that is trying to improve the 'bottom line' loses those staff who could help make it happen,” warns McKenzie.
“In addition, when the cutbacks come, it follows that any investment will stop, so staff who are looking for such things as self-development, investment in themselves or other talent, investment in new tools or technology, will find the company not providing it. They don’t want to find themselves left behind in the talent race, falling behind their peers, so they move on.”