Signs of progress on how employers view employees

Enlightened employers always understood that excellent employees are what make them, in turn, excellent

I know I'm going to regret this.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a well-known outplacement consultancy, recently distributed a press release reporting the results of a survey of HR executives they conducted.

[ See also: Every cost-cutting decision has a consequence -- even the easy ones | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]

The results were interesting enough that I'm making an exception to my policy of ignoring any and all press releases that come my way.

First, a complaint: As is the custom with companies publishing surveys, Challenger neglects to mention the sample size -- a defect that by itself would usually lead to me to assume a sample size of 12 and to my tossing the results in the trash.

Since the press release reported that one response was given by 52.4 percent of respondents, though, simple math tells me at least 262 individuals responded to the survey. That's enough to be worthy of attention.

Here's the good news: While companies certainly have laid off huge numbers of employees since the economy first started to implode, it appears many of them are doing everything they can to minimize the number. From the press release:

... employers announcing job cuts have initiated more cost-cutting measures than employers that have not cut payrolls. Companies that made permanent job cuts averaged an additional six cost-cutting measures. Meanwhile, companies that have avoided layoffs averaged less than three cost-cutting measures.

"There is a perception out there that some companies have not made sufficient efforts to avoid layoffs by making cutbacks in other areas. This perception is fueled, in part, by a handful of examples of companies announcing job cuts while, at the same time, rewarding top executives with large salaries, bonuses and extravagant perks. However, these examples represent the exception," said Challenger (John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas).

"It would also be a mistake to assume that companies avoiding layoffs are doing so out of kindness. While forging good will is certainly part of the decision for some companies, many have simply cut to the bone already or never fully ramped up after the last downturn. Other companies may have more workers than they need for current business levels but are reluctant to enact widespread layoffs, knowing that a recovery will mean recruiting and training all new workers.

"This may be why we have seen an increase in the number of companies cutting salaries and other perks. It is a lot easier to restore compensation and benefits than it is to re-hire and re-train workers when the economy improves."

Not very long ago, CEOs routinely laid off employees in large batches to "send a message to Wall Street," whether or not the company could afford to do without those who were let go. It never made any sense, other than as a transparent ploy to push up the stock price, thereby increasing the executive bonus package. For that matter, it never made any sense that Wall Street's genius-level analysts routinely fell for it.

Whatever the reason, it's nice to have evidence that an increasing number of companies have figured out that churning the workforce is bad for business and are doing what they can to avoid it.

Even if the evidence did arrive in a press release describing a survey for which the sample size was withheld.

- Bob

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.