Ex-Microsoft VP of HR on the 3 employees most at risk during layoffs

  • Chris Williams is a former VP of HR at Microsoft and a podcaster, consultant and TikTok creator.
  • Microsoft, like many other tech companies, recently announced plans to lay off 5% of its workforce.
  • It can be difficult to assess your risk of being fired, but those who are about to win are usually not attacked.

I’m a former VP of HR at Microsoft and have been on both sides of a layoff.

Many see layoffs in the news and wonder at their own risk of being laid off. Every industry, every company and even every department has a different risk, but some areas are more vulnerable than others.

Here are some general guidelines, roughly in order of lowest to highest risk.

#1 Safest: Profitable Employees

Basically, the closer your job is to the company’s most profitable activities, the lower your risk of termination.

When you are an integral part of developing the most profitable product for your company, your risk of being fired is low. As companies retreat to their core business, they turn to quality products that make money.

If you are essential to any of these products, the probability of losing your job is roughly equal to the risk of the entire company failing.

#2 Safest: HR or Finance workers

Often people think of human resources services such as finance, facilities or human resources when they think of areas at risk of layoff. But these areas are running very poorly in most companies, even in brisk times.

There is usually little excess to trim. Additionally, HR is vital in the layoff process and finances are often referred to as financial status comes under 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 from layoffs.

#3 Most At Risk: Event planning or benefits workers

Riskier are the activities that are considered luxuries, like generous benefits and employee perks and so on.

For example, if you’re involved in planning events, these are some of the first things companies cut back on in tight times. Individuals involved in the provision of such services are at high risk of dismissal.

#2 Most At Risk: New employees of the initiative

Another area to worry about is new initiatives. In prosperous times, if the company has recently decided to explore new lines of business or expand into new territories, these are tenuous jobs.

Unless the company makes a concerted effort to fully focus on these new areas, these types of new initiatives are often the first to be undertaken in leaner times.

#1 Most At Risk: Contract workers

At the extreme end of the risk spectrum are contract workers. One of the main reasons companies use temporary or contract workers is precisely this contingency. You want to remain flexible in the event of a downturn.

Because of this, contract workers are usually the first to turn the tide.

Beyond these areas, most jobs fall somewhere between these poles.

It can be difficult to assess your risk of being fired in these intermediate roles. Determining which areas are material or at risk requires insider knowledge of your organization’s exit and recovery plans and can be difficult to determine remotely.

Regardless of your risk of being fired, keep your resume up to date

Regardless of your risk of being fired, it’s always good advice to keep your resume up to date. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

A good tool is to keep a personal record of your achievements in one continuous document. Include major achievements and the key summary information you may provide when describing your job to an outsider. Update this list at least once a month to ensure it is current and your memory of events is fresh.

You certainly don’t want to keep proprietary information, but a remarkable list that’s always up to date makes updating your resume a breeze if or when you need to do it. And of course, keep it and your CV on your personal device in case the worst happens without notice.

Not only can keeping your resume up to date can weather the storm that is approaching, but it can also give you confidence that whatever the risk of being fired, you can get back on your feet.

Chris Williams is the former VP of HR at Microsoft and is a leadership consultant, podcaster, TikTok creator and author.

This story was originally published in September 2022.

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