nokiaIt’s December 2001 and America has only just begun its war in Afghanistan. I’m working in a human resources department at an insurance company. I’m the HR leader for “capital development,” which is shorthand for mergers and acquisitions.

I’m responsible for providing HR support to companies who are acquired by my organization. These are mostly insurance technology companies, and I’ve never heard of such a thing. I ask the CFO to explain it to me.

Well, it’s a new genre. I’m told that, in the future, people will use the internet to buy personal and business insurance. And when big-ticket items like MRI machines and chemical reactors break, we’ll use the internet to manage repairs and claims.

I’m not sure how this is possible. I have AOL dial-up at home. I call people from my Nokia. It’s a much simpler time.

But I don’t ask a lot of questions because I’m too busy putting new executive leadership teams on our payroll, getting them apartments in Chicago so they can come to town for meetings, and leaving their old benefits in place. I’m doing that while simultaneously learning how to do layoffs for the people who used to work for those executives.

That’s when it all started for me, December 2001. It’s when firing people became my core competency.

Back then, I needed my job and tried to keep my mouth shut. But my world didn’t make sense to me. How could we dole out million-dollar-plus bonuses every spring to our corporate leadership team while we were laying off so many people?

It turns out, I bore witness to a great tragedy: the rapid widening of the wealth gap and the systemic dismantling of white men in the American middle-class.

Not that executive pay wasn’t out of control and that women and minorities weren’t compensated fairly. That’s always happened. It’s just that the 21st-century meant that things moved faster, including the rise in executive compensation.

I was there when it started to go south for everyone, including corporate white dudes with a director title or below. I was the one who made it happen like it was my job because, to be fair, it was my job. When I quit my job — and my HR career — because my leaders weren’t leaders and it was too distasteful to continue, someone else took my place.

So flash-forward to 2016. You know what conditions I see in the average HR department? Reports of a widening wealth gap like they’ve never seen before. Corporate bonuses that invert the pyramid and reward for loyalty and the longevity of relationships. And layoffs.

Small pockets of layoffs. An office here. A department there.

Layoffs are my HR prediction for 2017. I see them coming. More than big data, more than the internet of things, more than any other HR trend on the horizon. If you work in HR, you’ll be tasked with laying off employees because your company needs a 21st-century workforce with new skills.

I don’t know what else to tell you about 2017. Good luck working in HR. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


  1. Laurie, layoffs have been built into the business structure for some time now and are unfortunately routinely used as cost management tools. As an outplacement provider, I have tried really hard to put some humanity into the process and devote our resources to getting the impacted employee’s career back on track.

  2. I suspect we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of layoffs and economic problems. The new Administration seems clueless about how their actions are going to affect the economy. Or maybe they don’t care. I don’t know.

    “Clear sight is called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
    H L Mencken

  3. Firing became my core competency too. One day after telling another group of poor souls how this “transition” was good for them I stopped and realize I didn’t like how good I had become at my job. And so I made a plan and I left, but I still consult for that company and I watch the gap widen as the greed grows. When is enough really enough? Will companies ever return to long-term values over the short-term stock price? My company i once loved is turning into a house of cards before my eyes. Soon I’ll be able to walk away for good but not before helping the executives maximize their payouts one more time. So thank you for your post. I’ve been there too in the year 2016.

  4. ? It’s all about re-bid and people who have dedicated their lives to supporting the mission are suddenly tossed aside because the VP’s recently retired military buddy needs a job.

  5. Doing some back of the napkin data analysis today… When either 1) the unemployment rate stays below the 12mo moving average for 5 consecutive months OR 2) only 3 consecutive months but the difference grows for each for those 3 months, a recession is sure to follow in about 12-18mo.

    • Sorry I got reversed… When the unemployment rate RISES ABOVE the moving average NOT FALLS BELOW… lol

  6. This prediction is ominously true in the Federal sector too…but driven completely by the political milieu vice technological advancement. Here’s to hoping I become a successful HR blogger…

  7. No way to email you, Laurie. I thought you’d love to hear the new business “buzz phrase” if you haven’t already.

    My wife was on a conference call where the topic of discussion was how people react in the workplace. Upper management repeatedly referred to “the human operating system.”

    Forgive me, but that just gives me chills.

Comments are closed.