Yes, I was a hired HR hit-woman, but tread lightly.

I went to see a movie called Up in the Air the other night. I highly recommend it.

The story is about a corporate downsizer and his travels. Played by George Clooney, it follows his isolated life and philosophies along with the people that he meets along the way.

He is, more or less, an HR hit man.

He comes into a company for a day or two, and lays off some of the employees. This interesting character sounds like he would be shallow and uncaring, but surprisingly, is quite authentic in his approach to this task. He searches for a connection to the individual, and tries to help that person create a vision for his or her future. One employee he lays off had wanted to be a chef, so Georges’ character helps him to pursue that dream.

A few years ago, I was hired at a local Mortgage company, to be their human resource manager. Within two weeks, I was tasked with overseeing lay-offs. This was for a 15 year old company that had NEVER laid off a single employee.

I was a hired hit-woman.

Unfortunately they did not inform me of this when I was hired, but that is another story. Suffice it to say, that was my last official job as a human resources professional.

I have very mixed feelings about the idea of outsourcing layoffs. That does seem callous, and certainly not the best message to send your employees. Ever heard of Survivor Syndrome?

Survivor Syndrome, according to the Conference Board, refers to a marked decrease in motivation, engagement and productivity of employees that remain at the company as a result of downsizing and workforce reductions. It entails a series of complex psychological processes and subsequent behavioral responses. Those who actually carry out the downsizing are also "survivors."

One key thing to remember about HR people, that is often overlooked, is how isolated, they are from their co-workers, and how they take the brunt of the emotional impact of things that happen to employees.

In bad economic times when companies are forced to downsize, working in human resources is emotionally draining and can cause burnout. While HR vendors can offset some of this and help ease job stress by taking over certain HR functions for companies, it can also be unnerving. With the cuts now so close to the bone, some HR professionals do see outsourcing of HR functions as a threat to their own job.

So, as a formal HR professional I ask HR vendors to keep this in mind in your discussions with HR departments in 2010, and tread lightly.

Post by Dawn Passaro

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