Is it me, or are we seeing a trend in press releases and internal memos about layoffs? In announcing the layoffs, whether publicly or "internally and confidentially" (which these days just means publicly with a slight delay — who really, in this day and age, thinks these memos and emails are going to remain confidential?), the companies explain the layoffs, cite the recession, but then talk about how good their company is doing.
Do they ask the workers they're laying off, "Do you want the good news first or the bad news?"
Examples abound. A CNET article entitled "IBM quietly lays off North American staff" comes right after Big Blue announced a 12 percent increase in earnings. Cellphone maker Ericsson issued a release entitled "Ericsson Reports Strong Fourth Quarter," but laid off 5,000 workers worldwide. Internet News had this headline: "EMC Trims Staff Levels Despite Record Revenues." According to Above the Law, a sizable regional law firm issued an internal email talking about its "strong 2008" while announcing that it was laying off 6 percent of its lawyers.
Perhaps some of this is Churchillian stiff-upper-lip talk to rally the remaining troops (and investors). But it's a safe bet that many of the laid-off workers (as well as a lot of those still left on board) will be left wondering if the layoffs were truly necessary.
To be sure, the job cuts may help prop up profit margins right now. But companies need to remember that the recession will end. And on the other side, these companies might wonder why they're no longer employers of choice in the eyes of the talent they will then need to hire. People remember how they're treated on the way out, and they tend to tell other people.
Bottom line: make sure your messages are consistent. If you're laying people off, don't brag about how well things are going.
A language note: The verb — to lay off someone — is two words. The noun — layoff — is one, without a hyphen. The adjective — a laid-off worker — is hyphenated because it's a phrasal (or compound) adjective that precedes the noun. But the worker was laid off — no hyphen.
It's hard enough to do a layoff. It shouldn't be so hard to write about it.