The procedural difficulties of layoffs

Political decision-makers in Philly haven't been talking much about layoffs lately, but this piece from Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene is still worthwhile. It's about "bumping,"a personnel practice that allows a more-senior employee who loses his or her position to take the job of a more-junior employee.

Bumping would go into effect in Philly if unionized city employees were laid off ("exempt" employees in departments like the Mayor's office do not have bumping rights). And it can cause some problems. For one thing, the process is demoralizing.

When an individual who is axed in a layoff takes the job of someone with less seniority, it can set off a domino effect. The bumped person bumps another, who bumps another and so on. "Bumping creates ripples that spread throughout the organization," says Neil Reichenberg, executive director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

Even the person who does the bumping generally comes out unhappy -- he's just been demoted. Nor is the end-product necessarily adequate. A more-senior person is not necessarily qualified for the job of the more-junior person he bumps.

Some of the young people at the tail end of the bumping are the ones with unique skills and flexibility in the work environment. A corollary is that, when older workers bump down to a lower-level job, they often find that many new skills are required. "Managers may be able to bump the administrative assistant," says Kenneth Poe, the director of Human Resources in Gwinnett County, Ga., "but can they answer a 12-line phone, do a file merge or create an Excel spreadsheet?"

Bumping was designed to protect seniority but, Barrett and Greene say, bad experiences with it are causing some municipalities to rethink the approach. Perhaps this isn't something Philly needs to worry about right now, but it does sound like a practice that could make an already bad situation (layoffs, if it comes to that) more unpleasant still.

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