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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Employee Relations case study: Reduction in workforce

Sara has worked for you in an administrative position for 20 years. Her primary duties have been to design brochures and pamphlets and to maintain the department's website. Over the past several years, Sara has taken additional training and education on design, but the department is moving toward a "paperless" presence and these skills are no longer needed.

The department is redesigning the job description and will be looking for a highly skilled Web designer. The department head does not feel that Sara possesses the skills necessary for this new position. They plan to eliminate Sara’s current position and post the new one. The new position is ready to be posted, and despite the department's insistence that "Sara isn’t what we need," she indeed meets the minimum requirements for the job. As Sara's supervisor, you are aware that Sara is minimally qualified for this position, but you realize that her skills are not at the level that the department head wants. If Sara is placed in this new position, chances are high that she will fail. What should you do?

The case above is not out of the ordinary. Employee Relations can help the department head, the supervisor and the employee in these types of situations. All too often, Employee Relations is consulted at the end of the process, rather than at the beginning. Employee Relations can help the department think through the tough decisions and suggest options and alternatives. Employee Relations may suggest options the department head and supervisor have not considered. Before moving forward, here are some questions to think about that could have been considered much earlier in the process:

  • Has Sara been given any advance notice that this may happen?
  • Has she been given the opportunity to seek training that would make her a better fit for the position?
  • Have Sara's performance evaluations been at Meets Expectations or higher?
  • Does Sara have talents that can be better utilized in another area of the department?

In a time when departments are being asked to cut budgets and do more with less, sometimes decisions get made that are not well thought through. If an employee has given 20 years to the University, decision makers should step back and make sure everything within their control has been done to help an employee continue to be a valuable contributor to the department.

Once options and alternatives have been discussed and weighed, the supervisor has the responsibility to talk with the employee and make sure she understands the situation. Approach your discussion with this in mind: How would Sara want to be treated in this situation?

Schedule a meeting with Sara, and make sure there will not be any interruptions. Discuss with her what the alternatives and options might be. Help her think through what she would like to do. Provide her resources she can use to help her make decisions. Discuss the following:

  • Although she meets the minimum qualifications for the position, does she think she can be successful?
  • Share your evaluation of her potential in the position.
  • Are there other positions in the department/college that she would be interested in rather than accepting the redesigned position?
  • Suggest she speak with an Employee Relations specialist who can help her think of other options, alternatives and resources before she makes a decision.
  • If Sara decides to continue in her redesigned position, plan to meet with Sara at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals to provide performance feedback.

Even if all the proactive steps are taken, it's possible that Sara's job may be eliminated. Potentially this is a reduction in workforce – a RIF. You can find out more information about the RIF process by referring to the March 2011 issue of LeadingEdition or contacting Employee Relations at 49-41679.

Employee Relations


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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.