Layoffs? 10 Types of Employees Who Are First to Be ‘Fired’

Are layoffs in your company’s future? |

Your company just made headlines for its quarterly losses. You hear concerned whispers as people pass by your cube, and your boss is holed up in his office like he’s defending secrets of national security. At this point, there’s only two questions you care about: Are layoffs happening, and will you be one of the people to get a pink slip?

Layoffs are less common than they were a few years ago during the Great Recession, when companies in just about every sector were struggling. Still, if a business is in the red and needs to restructure, you can bet downsizing is at least a part of the conversation.

To avoid any legal issues from cost-cutting layoffs, companies need to follow certain guidelines when it comes to deciding who to lay off. However, those guidelines still leave ample room for discretionary cuts. In unions, the typical rule is “last in, first out” and organized by seniority. However, in other workplace situations, management has the ability to direct who goes and who stays.

When a company needs to reduce its workforce for economic reasons, it’s normally a good course of action to determine which departments or positions are no longer helpful for achieving the company’s goals. “For example, if the company is cutting back on direct sales to focus more attention on research and development, the sales department can be safely targeted for cuts,” legal advice site Nolo said.

Think layoffs might be in your company’s future? Here are 10 types of employees who are often the first to go. Hopefully this list doesn’t describe you in anyway.

1. The positions ripe for outsourcing

Businessman standing in front of map drawn on blackboard

Outsourcing |

Outsourcing won’t win your firm any “Company of the Year” awards from the American public, but upper management might believe the move is still worth it if it can save their bottom line. According to one report from Global Research, roughly 14 million American jobs are still at risk for outsourcing to other cheaper workforces around the world.

It used to be that only call center employees and customer service representatives were at risk for layoffs due to outsourcing, but in today’s digitally connected environment, any job that can be completed with an internet connection and telephone is potentially on the line. White-collar positions like information technology, accounting, and even engineering design are now in danger of getting sent overseas for a cheaper price tag.

2. The employees who refuse to learn new skills

crumpled office paper and light bulb standing on the table

New skills are vital to stay relevant |

No matter what industry you’re in, it has likely changed dramatically since even five or 10 years ago. Your job description might have changed, and your company might be pushing new technology and training along the way to keep up with demands from the industry or customers.

If you’re looking to secure your job, don’t turn down opportunities to learn new skills. A resistance to change or outright refusal to shift the way you perform your job will make you a target for future layoffs, and your employer will be able to argue that you are no longer aligning yourself to the company’s future goals. “Low-maintenance employees who can adapt quickly and without a fuss are more likely to be retained when there’s a layoff,” reports the Metropolitan New York Library Council.

3. The consummate slacker

Sloth climbing tree

Sloth climbing tree |

You might think you’ve made it when your inbox is empty and you spend half your day organizing your desk. But if you aren’t seeking out extra job duties and your boss realizes how light your workload actually is, you might be at risk for receiving a pink slip in return for all your fruitless days.

“This may be the inexperienced employee who wants to be laid back and doesn’t care about the job, the employee who leaves others to pick up the slack, or the employee who is getting close to retirement and is coasting on the job,” writes the team at Keirsey, a site dedicated to determining employee temperaments.

4. The employee who embarrasses his boss

businessman hiding head in the sand

Unaware employee |

Whether you realize it, the ability to make your boss and your colleagues look good elevates your own standing in the company. It’s one of the “soft skills” employers look for, and it will likely matter when it comes time for your bosses to decide who has earned the right to stay on in the midst of company turmoil.

On the other hand, if you embarrass your boss by showing up late to important presentations, publicly challenge co-workers on a consistent basis, or are rude and speak negatively about your company, you can’t expect management to fight very hard to keep you around.

5. The person who costs too much

Large Vintage Calculator

Calculator |

It’s only an official layoff when a company is making cuts for financial reasons, so you can expect that the people who are drawing the biggest paychecks will get a closer look. When you can lay off one person versus three lower-level employees with smaller paychecks, it can be tempting unless the older employee has made themselves indispensable.

At the same time, “costs” aren’t just monetary. If an employee’s personal or office drama cuts into productivity and the boss spends more of their day as a referee or counselor than a manager, a layoff period can be an easy way to cut the employee who is costing the company time. “Dealing with this person costs the manager too much time and layoffs provide the perfect excuse to get rid of this type of person,” Keirsey summarizes.

6. The co-worker who doesn’t fit with office culture

Todd Packer

Todd Packer of The Office | NBC

It’s one thing to follow the beat of a different drum, but quite another when you’re at odds with the prevailing culture in your office. While this isn’t likely to be the first reason you’re handed a pink slip, it’s likely to be one of the factors considered.

The general atmosphere in the company should have been something the employee and the HR department took into account before accepting the job — or offering it in the first place. However, sometimes it doesn’t become apparent that a person isn’t a good fit until later. If an HR department is taking multiple factors into account, a person’s attitude and ability to be promoted should go into that decision, the Society for Human Resource Management suggests. If you’re constantly in conflict with the ideology and work methods of your colleagues, it might be a sign that a pink slip is in your future.

7. The low performer

businessman holding charts

Evaluating performance |

In an article about layoff strategy, one Forbes contributor highly recommends conducting staffing cuts based solely on performance levels. Regardless of how long you’ve been at the company or other considerations, what you bring to the table should be the primary focus, the SafeGraph CEO Auren Hoffman writes.

“Depending on how big the layoff is, there may be a lot of good people amongst these ‘low performers,’ but at least it will not be your very best people. Always do everything to keep your best people,” Hoffman writes. If you can make sure you’re among the “best” according to how your company measures success, you can often consider your job safe.

8. The sneak

man putting money in jacket

Man putting money in jacket |

Your boss might not have fired you for talking with your best friend on the phone for an hour, or making off with the office’s supply of Post-It notes for your home office. But any sketchy behavior, even if it’s not a firing offense, is sure to come to mind when layoffs are on the table.

More than that, however, is that generally sneaky behavior — whether it’s along the lines of time theft or general disregard for your workplace — means that you’re probably not performing to the best of your abilities. Once again, that’s going to count against you.

9. The people unnecessary for business operations


Office space | Ian Gavan/Getty Images for O2

If you’re in the social media department of your company and it’s not bringing in any money for the company, it might be time to start looking for a new company who wants you to post on Facebook and Snapchat. If the sales team is still raking in all the dough and your position isn’t helping the bottom line, you can bet that your position will be evaluated for a layoff before anyone in sales.

“In tough times, it is not unusual to see companies slashing entire departments if they are not cost effective, or dismantling divisions that are costing more money than they’re bringing in,” CNN Money reports.

10. The least tenured person


Climbing ladders |

Though this is almost a guaranteed rule in any union shop, tenure can also be a factor in layoffs of any office. While some offices may choose to target older workers because they tend to have the highest paychecks, it can also be a time when those at the bottom of the totem pole feel the heat.

As with any layoff decision, this has its pros and cons. “Because seniority-based systems reward employees for their tenure, there is a lower risk that older workers will sue employers for age discrimination under the ADEA,” the Society for Human Resource Management advises. “However, using seniority does not protect the employer from further risks for potential discrimination against other protected groups.”

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