Reducing your workforce? Beware, the rules have changed (HR Strategies column)

By Brian Orr
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/18/2001

The 1990s began with widespread reductions in the workforces of many organizations. With the recent publicity surrounding layoffs at major Canadian employers like Nortel and JDS, it seems like déjà vu. Haven’t we learned anything about workforce reduction over the last decade?

The thinning of the health-care sector in the early 1990s is just one example of the adverse consequences of workforce reductions. The widespread layoffs ultimately encouraged many to leave the profession altogether or flock to the United States. At the end of the decade, Canada had fewer registered nurses, and replacement rates for physicians and other health-care providers had dropped below national requirements. As a result, we are faced with a significant shortage of health-care professionals across the country — a shortage that is expected to last for at least the next 15 years.

Organizations dependent on knowledge workers need to approach any workforce reduction carefully if they want to weather an economic storm and remain a viable operation in the longer term. For an increasing number of these organizations, traditional workforce reduction practices have become obsolete because they are based on assumptions that do not apply to knowledge workers.