'Where Did My Co-Worker Go?' Stealth Layoffs Become Widespread

stealth layoffsEvery week, there seems to be another major employer announcing mass layoffs. But equally prevalent, though less noticed, is the steady stream of employers who conduct "stealth layoffs" every couple of months -- methodically shedding smaller numbers of staff so quietly that often many employees in the firm aren't aware of the cuts.

Just this week there was international media coverage of Barclays' announcement that it was laying off 3,700 workers. But you'd have to scour the web for mentions of the fact that large military contractors in Florida have slashed hundreds of jobs in preparation for the winding down of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, or that Pfizer has quietly laid off hundreds of workers in Groton, Conn., more than it initially it said it would. No formal announcement was made when the job cuts were made, and sometimes employers wouldn't even acknowledge making them, reports The Orlando Sentinel.

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In a meticulously-reported story, the Sentinel notes that Lockheed Martin "eliminated an unspecified number of local jobs through a restructuring," but that the company wouldn't disclose how many or even explain why to the reporter, Richard Burnett. The job cuts took effect Jan. 1. Northrop Grumman also laid off 200 workers in 2012 but didn't even "acknowledge the cuts until months after they had occurred," Burnett writes.

There are definite advantages for employers to have layoffs occur under the radar. "It's bad publicity to have a layoff because the immediate reaction is that [the company] has financial issues," says J.T. O'Donnell, a former human resources exec-turned-career coach. "Employers don't want that negativity out there."

In addition, she says when an employer announces a mass layoff, it can have a debilitating effect on the staff, lowering morale and productivity. "The whole place grinds to a halt," O'Donnell says. (Under federal law, if an employer is going to lay off more than a third of the staff, it must give at least 60-days notice.)

Stealth layoffs first became popular during the Great Recession, as investment banks quietly made "the deepest staff reductions in years" with nary a word, according to a much-quoted 2008 article in The New York Times. While after the 1987 stock crash, banks herded workers into conference rooms and fired people en masse, during the financial crisis the banks made "small cuts" over weeks, even months. "Nobody knows who is coming in; nobody knows who is going out," one laid-off worker told the Times.

More: Barclays To Cut 3,700 Jobs As Part Of Its 'Project Transform'

O'Donnell, who once was a corporate hitman responsible for executing staff reductions, says that, "unfortunately," layoffs have become a routine part of business, even if companies use stealth layoffs, in part, to hide that fact. "The new norm is for employers to look at the company operationally every six months," shedding units and people as necessary, she says. People need to recognize that "every job is temporary."

O'Donnell understands the emotional toll of stealth layoffs. "I have heard scenarios where an employer doesn't bother to tell anyone until someone walks into a conference room and says, 'Where's Bill?' "

But she advises everyone to behave as "a business of one" -- actively network, keep your skills current and have some money in the bank -- so you won't have to fear layoffs -- stealth or otherwise.

Employee Tweets Layoffs From Company's Account

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a person needs to get a dirty job,,you still get laid off but there are way more oppurtunities..you can be a plummer or an iron worker or a dozer operator,,pay is good and a computer has not eliminated the job-----yet!!! if you can work outside,,work in the ground,,work with heavy items[tons],,work up high,,you will always have a job...there is an age limit,and it has notheing to do with your years,,it has something to do with your health,,wich will run out...nature way of telling you to quit beating yourself for a dollar....

July 22 2013 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It happened to me...about a year ago I came back from lunch and went to the ladies room to wash my hands. As I was walking out the door, a woman from HR came in looking for me. She asked me to follow her and when I asked if something was wrong, she said no. We went to an out of the way conference room, where about 10 other employees, some newer some with many, many years of experience were already seated. The HR director and several managers were also there. The HR manager then proceeded to tell us that due to finanical concerns we were all being let go effective immediately. Nothing we did wrong, just a monetary decision. We were then told that a manager would go to our desks to retrieve our belongings. We were made to stay in the conference room until they came back with our things. At that point we were instructed that we were to leave through a side door to the conference room (escorted to the elevator), get our cars and return our parking passes and employee ID badges to the security desk. We were to speak to no one and leave the building immediately. And the managers stood by the doors to make sure we did that. We never had a chance to say goodbye to our coworkers or speak to anyone at all. That's stealth!

June 16 2013 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Or said another way - always be as loyal to your employer as your last pay check. Better yet, once you get a job its time to start looking for another one!

March 07 2013 at 3:15 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

It really does blow my mind that people really don't understand that if places like walmart were to pay their employees a good wage, like 15 an hour and even gave decent bennies they would still make billions in just profits, surly not the 100's of billions they love, but still a good amount of billions and keep growing, I mean where else are they getting some compitition after stomping all the other's out....oh...thats right...k mart is still hanging on by a weak thread, and after all...that pipe line to china must cost them a HUGE amount. But when you have working people brain washed into shopping there for the best price, why change what works for them in very BIG WAY. Pay our workers NOTHING and reap all the profits is what they go by, wal-mart would never have to hire and have the most happy, productive employees alive, they would only have to hire after opening another SUPER WAL-MART a few miles down the road from the last one. Ya think this would help the economy in any way if people like their workers could AFFORD THINGS LIKE A NEW CAR instead of taking the bus to work or just something like a vacation to disney land, see one thing leads to another, then disney would be doing great business ( even better than they do now) and the money would keep on rolling over to other business and so on. But we have not learned a good enough lesson from all this and people continue to shop there, so why would places like walmart change how they do business and treat those slaves that work there any better, like the old saying goes, HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF.

February 16 2013 at 8:34 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mike's comment

China pays it's workers next to nothing and you expect Wally World to do more?????

February 16 2013 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Moe DeLonn

I worked for a company that began a practice of "annual firings". They lost a lot of their best people from employees taking early retirement and changing jobs as a result.

February 16 2013 at 8:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Loyalty and respect no longer exist between worker and employer. Part of being a proud American is being honest with one another. Lets start helping each other instead of laughing at peoples downfalls!

February 16 2013 at 8:07 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to indycoltsfan38's comment

Totally agree! We need Dr. Carson for President!!!

February 16 2013 at 8:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Let's face it. If the economy was not in shatters and if the government wasn't strangling these companies with excessive regulation, the jobs would be so plentiful companies would have to COMPETE for workers. I don't blame them for having to make harsh decisions. It's a choice between laying off 100 workers to keep the other 800 - or going bankrupt.

February 16 2013 at 8:06 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

all this while the official media reports a brightening employment picture.something does not add up

February 16 2013 at 8:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Happens all the time, work your ass off, make the company money, lots of money and Oh sorry we don't need you but we are replacing you with 3 people what do you think?!?
Companies have no loyalty to employees any longer they just move on without you...

February 16 2013 at 7:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

If they really look at the people there getting rid of you will probably see their in the late 50's and no one will want to hire them. I know, I'm one of them. Forced into early retirement and now they want controll of that.

February 16 2013 at 7:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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