Most people do not like to think or talk about RIF and they certainly do not want to do a RIF. But – think and talk about it we must. And in some agencies, leaders may have to more than that.
Most people would rather talk about the “A word” – attrition. For many years that has been the preferred way to shrink the workforce. Attrition is less harsh, it does not force people out of their jobs, and presents fewer opportunities for favoritism or other bad things.
So why would we ever consider RIF when we have the allegedly painless magic of attrition? There are at least three reasons.
- Attrition is random. It does not always happen where you need it. If we have an organization where we want to reduce the number of people in position A, but keep all that we have in position B, we have to pray that the people who leave are in position A. If not, we may find ourselves being unable to hire for the jobs we need and still having too many people in the positions we do not need. Multiply that by a few dozen types of jobs and it is easy to see how an agency could get itself into a bind.
- Prolonged pain. Attrition takes a downsizing process and drags it out for months or even years. The organization is constantly under stress, leaders may not see the need for rapid rethinking of processes and structures, and the workforce is asked to do more with less until they break. It is not good the agency, its mission, or its workforce.
- Timing. This one is most important for our situation today. Attrition depends on people leaving. If they are leaving in large numbers (and from the right jobs), attrition can work well. But most agencies do not have high turnover rates. If an agency has a turnover rate of 5% and is told to take a 10% cut (the size of the reductions we are hearing about in the President’s budget plan) on October 1st, they have a problem. Turnover takes time, and in that agency with 5% turnover, it would take 2 years of hiring no one to meet the goal. That is 2 years too late. Agencies can increase turnover by offering buyouts and early retirement, but that takes time, and they either need more money to pay for the buyouts or they have to do them early in the fiscal year. Attrition is great for small reductions that do not have a budget deadline. For big reductions, the timing simply does not work.