Keeping a Strong Staff Despite Layoffs

By Bruce F. Webster Print this article Print

Layoffs are hard on everyone, but your team could grow stronger despite budget cutbacks.

My last two columns have talked about conducting triage on your IT projects and what you should do in shutting down those projects that don’t make the cut (related slideshow here).

Now, what about your IT staff?

Having been on both sides of employee layoffs, I can tell you that they are not any fun for anyone involved. This is especially true if there is little or no deadwood among your staff. In such a case, every cut hurts, not just because of the loss of headcount, talent, and skills, but also because each lost staff member means lost expertise in your firm’s custom systems and adopted commercial technologies.

On the other hand, if you do have some less-than-ideal employees among your staff, this may give you an opportunity to let them go while (one hopes) holding onto your best people. The real risk, however, is that the opposite may happen: your best people, worried about layoffs, may preemptively jump ship to another job.

Avoid or Reverse the Dead Sea Effect

I have written elsewhere about what I call the “Dead Sea Effect.” Put simply, it’s when over time your best IT personnel leave, and what remains behind is an increasingly mediocre IT staff. As this happens, your IT department becomes less and less productive, effective, and reliable. I’ve watched this happen in person, and the results are not pretty.

If you are not careful, your budget cutbacks may well trigger the Dead Sea Effect in your own organization. Your most qualified and talented people are the ones who can best find jobs elsewhere, and so they are the most likely to leave if post-retrenchment conditions become sufficient unpleasant. 

This article was originally published on 2009-02-11
Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.
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