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Would Your Name Be on the Layoff List?


In post-recession America, to be employed is to fear being laid off. But recent research shows that the factors that lead to layoffs probably aren’t the ones you’d expect.


(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

The research, compiled by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, used data from a Fortune 100 company that had recently gone through a layoff. Zenger and Folkman looked at 360-degree assessments for the two years prior to the downsizing, and made a startling discovery.

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“One factor that wasn’t very predictive, it turned out, was a history of good performance reviews,” they write on HBR Blog Network. “Only 23 percent of those who were laid off had been given a negative review the previous year. The implication is that the other 77 percent who were asked to leave had no clue this was coming.”

Zenger and Folkman identified six other factors that were more predictive. Laid-off workers tended to have at least two of the following characteristics:

1. Their managers didn’t view them as strategic.

2. They had failed to deliver results.

3. They displayed questionable ethics or a lack of integrity.

4. They lacked interpersonal skills.

5. They were resistant to change.

6. They had lost support.

Unsurprisingly, that last factor was one of the most important, with over half the laid-off managers they examined showing lack of support in the organization.

So if you’re really worried about getting laid off, maybe the first thing to do is to consider who would speak up for you, if you needed defending. And then take comfort in this: because of the fact that the 150 people in the sample were laid off for at least two of the above reasons, the researchers say, we need not worry that layoffs will truly come out of nowhere.

The key is to be aware of the real reasons companies lay off workers — and to make sure we don’t have any of these characteristics.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you agree or disagree with this list of “layoff-worthy” characteristics? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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GeorgeGregshmadzDebJohn Jefferson Recent comment authors
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I agree with George. You get fired for unethical behavior. There seems to be a  strong move toward equating being fired with being laid off, usually to find some way to blame people for being laid off due to economic conditions for being unemployed. There is an enormous effort being made to totally ignore the fact the people get laid off for economical reasons. Being laid off is not equal to being fired.


I think point 1 and 4 can be merged together.  And last but not the least should be “They are not in bed with their managers!”  or “They are being a victim of Hate Crime due to discrimination at work based on Gender or Sexuality”




You don’t get laid off for unethical behavior – you get fired. Some of the other reasons listed seem to be more fault with management than the person laid off. If someone isn’t strategic enough, is management paying attention or do they want to sit back and have someone else make it happen? These are too vague. Aren’t most lay offs due to economics rather than the reasons given in this article?



Towards the comment from John. I don’t think it’s about “kissing up”. If you are in a position of leadership and you have lost the support of those you are paid to lead, then you are skating on some very thin ice.

John Jefferson
John Jefferson

Your no. 6 needs to be more specific.  Spending lots of time kissing up, with your head in a very dark place, is the greatest indicator that you will not be laid off.

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