I'm Microsoft's former VP of HR. Here are the 3 types of employees most at risk during layoffs — and the 2 that are safest.
- Chris Williams is a former VP of HR at Microsoft and podcaster, consultant, and TikTok creator.
- Microsoft, like many other tech companies, recently announced plans to lay off 5% of staff.
I'm a former VP of HR at Microsoft and have been on both sides of a layoff.
Many are seeing layoffs in the news and wondering about their own risk of being laid off. Every industry, company, even department has a different risk, but some areas are more vulnerable than others.
Here are some general guidelines roughly in order of lowest risk to highest.
No. 1 most safe: Profit-making employees
The basic rule is the closer your job is to the most profitable activities of the company, the lower your risk of layoff.
If you're an essential part of building the most profitable product for your company, your layoff risk is low. When retreating to the core business, companies turn to the quality products that make money.
If you're essential to one of those products, the odds of losing your job are about equal to the risk of failure of the entire company.
No. 2 most safe: HR or finance employees
Often people think of staff services like finance, facilities, or human resources when they think of areas of layoff risk. But those areas run quite lean in most companies, even when times are flush.
There is usually little excess to cut. In addition, HR is essential in the layoff process, and finance is often relied on as the financial status gets more scrutiny.
As such, these areas are rarely the source of major cuts in most layoffs.
And now, here are the 3 employees most at risk during layoffs.
No. 3 most at risk: Event planning or benefits employees
More risky are the activities considered luxuries, like generous benefits and employee perks, and so on.
If you are involved in planning events, for example, those are some of the first things that companies cut when times get tight. People who are part of providing such services are at high risk of being laid off.
No. 2 most at risk: New initiative employees
Another area where you should be concerned is new initiatives. If, when times were flush, the company recently decided to explore new lines of business, or expand into new territories, those are tenuous places to work.
Unless the company is making a concerted effort to pivot entirely to these new areas, these kinds of new initiatives are often the first ones cut when times are leaner.
No. 1 most at risk: Contract workers
At the extreme end of the risk spectrum are contract employees. One of the main reasons companies use temporary or contract workers is for this very contingency. They want to remain flexible in case of a downturn.
As such, contract employees are usually the first out when the tide turns.
Beyond these areas, most jobs fall somewhere in between these poles.
Judging your layoff risk in these inbetween roles can be difficult. Determining what areas are essential or at risk requires inside knowledge of your firm's retreat and recovery plans and can be difficult to know at a distance.
Keep your résumé updated regardless of your layoff risk
Regardless of your layoff risk, keeping your résumé up-to-date is always good advice. You'd much rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
A good tool is to maintain a personal list of your accomplishments in a running document. Include major successes, and the essential summary information you might include when describing your job to an outsider. Update this list at least once a month to ensure that it's current and your memory of events is fresh.
You certainly don't want to keep company proprietary information, but a noteworthy list that's always up-to-date will make updating your résumé a snap if or when you need to do it. And of course, keep it and your résumé on your personal device in case the worst happens without notice.
Keeping your résumé current can help you not only weather the looming storm, but it will give you confidence that you can bounce back regardless of your layoff risk.
Chris Williams is the former VP of HR at Microsoft and a leadership advisor, podcaster, TikTok creator, and author.
This story was originally published in September 2022.
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