Saturday, June 22, 2024

IT Layoffs? Not Again!

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“I’m sorry but we have to let you go.”

I had to repeat that line multiple times as we reduced our IT staff when I worked for a consulting firm many years ago. Other crappy lines included “This is nothing personal, just business” and “I’m sure you’ll land on your feet.”

Having been through this experience on the opposite side, as the one being let go, I knew what they were feeling. The unspoken thoughts likely included “Why did you hire all these people in the first place?” or “If you would just fall on your sword and quit, a couple of us ‘more important’ developers could stay.”

The more crushing thoughts were likely along the lines of “I shouldn’t have just bought that new house” or “What will I tell my family?”

Since the introduction of the personal computer, the IT industry has endured two major recessions, which produced significant layoffs of IT workers. If you listen to the rhetoric coming from the presidential campaign, the news isn’t rosy about 2008’s economy.

There is a lot of debate about an impending recession or if we may be in one already. Does this mean the IT industry is in for another round of mass layoffs?

Don’t bet on it.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with the second quarter a year ago, U.S. IT employment is up 10 percent and there are more IT professionals in the U.S. than at any time in history, with over 4 million and counting.

The good news is that having learned from the last experiences with layoffs, IT management has been more conservative with growth. The bad news is that the work load of today’s IT worker seems to be much heavier, in some cases overwhelmingly so.

But isn’t the extra work worth the peace of mind regarding your job?

Even though the employment news has remained positive in IT, there are pockets of problems in banking, real estate and the mortgage business. In many cases the first people cut are in IT because they’re looked at as an easy cost cutting opportunity. You need to pay attention to trends in your company’s industry to make sure you aren’t caught off guard.

Back in the early 90’s I remember going through my first experience as a developer facing the axe. The company I worked for decided to outsource parts of the IT function to some big conglomerate in some southern state where the labor was cheaper. (Offshoring hadn’t yet caught on, but the impact was the same.)

Everyone was informed of the decision at an all-hands meeting. As we sat there holding our breath, there was to be no resolution of staffing at that meeting. Only that there would be changes and we’d be informed in the next couple of weeks of our fate.

Big mistake!

You can imagine those two weeks were filled with very little work getting done, but plenty of rumor mongering. Anxious comments could be heard daily around the water cooler.

“Did you hear everyone is being let go tomorrow?”

“I heard anyone staying will be asked to move south!”

“A good source told me there won’t be any severance.”

Of course, none of these turned out to be completely true. But what happened was like something straight out of American Idol, when they group contestants in two separate rooms – one group stays and one goes home.

They did the same thing to us. We all received an email stating that one group of employees would go into conference Room A and the other into Room B. One group would be released and the others would stay on board (and not have to move south).

I looked around my assigned room and couldn’t help but assess my co-workers to determine if I was in a group that was doomed. Turns out I dodged a bullet and got to stay on an overworked team that was full of survivor’s guilt.

Lucky me. Well, at least I had a paycheck.

However, as soon as the economy turned around, the majority of those who stayed bolted for the door because the way the situation was handled had killed any sense of loyalty.

In the early 2000’s, I had the displeasure of being let go from one job and then experiencing layoffs from a managers perspective at my new job. The tech bubble had burst and IT budgets were slashed after massive spending on Y2K preparation and new Internet technologies. The demand for our consultants was plummeting and something had to be done.

I was fairly new to the company and hadn’t hired any of the people we now had to let go. I wish I could have been there to plan better, but maybe I would have ended up in the same predicament – running out of projects with a growing bench.

It’s hard to predict resource demand, but hiring full time consultants for short term projects probably wasn’t a brilliant idea.

My boss at the time offered to bring in security in case anyone cracked. I declined because I had seen that scenario play out in the past and it wasn’t pretty. People not only felt crushed by the job loss, but then they’d feel like criminals being escorted out of the building.

Unless someone seemed like they would be unstable, it wasn’t worth it.

It sounds like a crock, but laying off people was much more excruciating than being let go. Yes, I still had a job, but I knew how much this action was going to affect their lives.

The ones that were impacted the least had done a few things to protect themselves. Since then I always encourage my team member to keep current in their area of expertise, periodically update your resume and take time to network and stay in touch with colleagues from prior jobs.

Whether you are a top performer or not, it’s best to be prepared for the worst. After all, you never know when you’ll be called into a conference room where you too will face your fate.

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