Effects of Reductions in Force?

Like many of you, I was horrified by the recent NY Times article on the effects of drastic cuts in local and state government.

“Reductions in force” (as government layoffs are called) have had a major impact on communities around the nation. So for, layoffs seemt to have mainly occurred in local and state government (federal government doesn’t have to balance its budget the same way), and certain areas (public higher education, for one) have been hit especially hard. I have interviewed HR managers in state and local governments in several states and found that there was significant effort made to avoid layoffs, by focusing on furloughs, not having pay increases, reducing
benefits, or other options; and additionally, that most governments have strong hiring preferences in places to re-hire people they have laid off. Many job openings have been exclusively available to current employees or those recently laid off. So although it’s true there have been layoffs, the impact is less than it might be had the same budget shortfall hit the private sector which doesn’t typically have these kinds of protections in place.

Certain kinds of jobs have been hit harder than others. For instance, about half of the urban planners in many cities and counties in my area have been laid off, because their jobs are funded by fees paid by builders (and no building is going on). However, some of these planners are able to find jobs in the federal government sector (for instance, with the Army Corps of Engineers). Certain kinds of jobs (IT, HR, communications) can easily move between sectors, and others (like teachers, ecologists or urban planners) can have a harder time transitioning to the nonprofit or private sector.

Another factor is that the main thrust of the recent stimulus funding has been to create jobs in the private sector; while governments are giving the money away, they are more of a flow-through and the goal wasn’t to create jobs in government. There have been some projects created in government and higher ed that were stimulus-funded, and that money is going to be gone in the next year,so we may see another wave of layoffs because of that.

Lastly, government layoffs seem to occur later on in the recession, because the impacts of reduced tax revenues are felt a few months after they occur.

What do you think? How have RIFs affected your community?

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

I’ve seen lots of layoffs at state and local level as well. I think it can often be demoralizing – was talking to HR director at a city this week…and she said that they’ve seen an increase in complaints/bad behavior since they started laying people off. Really hurts morale and people aren’t as engaged.