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For The Unemployed, A Layoff Is A Layoff Is A Layoff...

February 25, 1992

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Forget downsizing. The latest buzzword in corporate America is ″rightsizing,″ and it spells doom for a whole class of middle managers who are being told their services won’t be needed even after the recession ends.

At Aetna Life & Casualty Co., the term means trying to be leaner and more efficient in times of increased competition, says spokesman Bob Norton, whose Hartford-based company is eliminating 2,600 jobs.

″The words we use around here are quick, flexible and right,″ Norton says. ‴Rightsizing’ is a good word. It’s certainly got to do with making sure that all of our business units are the right size.″

At Xerox Corp. in Stamford, where the copier company plans to cut 2,500 jobs, the word is bandied about only in private, says spokesman Judd Everhart.

″Part of the problem with (the word) is it implies what you had before was wrong,″ he says - that management ranks had grown bloated during the free- spending 1980s.

But regardless of how the word is used, it means the same thing: Corporations are trying to come to terms with laying off people who used to assume their jobs were safe, even in the worst of times.

Blue-collar workers may be bearing the brunt of the layoffs in this recession, but experts say the white-collar unemployed will take longer to recover as companies move to eliminate layers of management.

″The companies are really getting lean and mean, and they have no intention of hiring back the people they’re getting rid of right now,″ says Linda Kiner, president of Insurance Career Center, a headhunter for insurance giants like The Travelers Cos. and ITT Hartford.

″In the recession of ’81-’82, it was just a few scattered jobs across the board,″ she says. ″But what’s happening now is the elimination in many situations of entire levels of middle management.″

In the two recessions of the early 1980s, white-collar employment actually grew, says Mary Sullivan, a regional economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That doesn’t seem to be true this time.

″Back in the early ’80s, you had far fewer managers, but the numbers were growing rapidly and the trend was to expand management levels,″ Sullivan says. ″Now there are many more managers, but their jobs are being cut. The trend now is restructuring, and companies are slimming down.″

Statistics from her agency show the number of unemployed managers and professionals increased 33.9 percent from December 1990 to December 1991, from 646,000 to 865,000. They include executives, lawyers and doctors.

White-collar workers took a hit when United Technologies Corp. of Hartford announced a major restructuring in January. Roughly half of the 13,900 job cuts will come from salaried positions. So while the company plans to reduce total employment by 7 percent, white-collar positions are being reduced by 12 percent.

″UTC has been burdened by excess layering in management,″ says Mark Bobbi, an aerospace analyst for Forecast International Inc. in Newtown, Conn. ″They’re top-heavy throughout the company. And they essentially have admitted that, too.″

Nicholas Perna, chief economist for Connecticut National Bank, says white- collar layoffs are a natural outgrowth of consolidations and mergers.

″We’re seeing more and more mergers and takeovers and restructuring in the service industry,″ he says. ″When you get changes like that, companies start looking for redundancies. They eliminate the overlap - and that means people.″

The fact is, many management jobs don’t make sense as competition increases and business remains slow, says Xerox’s Everhart.

″Basically what we’re trying to do here is sell office equipment, so we’re cutting back on the jobs that have little to do with that - on the managers who don’t do the selling,″ he says.

Still, ″rightsizing″ comes as a rude shock to many of the white-collar workers now pounding the pavement.

″People used to think it was so safe to be in a big company. They thought that Mother Aetna would take care of them,″ Kiner says. Now they’re finding out that isn’t true, she says.

Bob Tank, an executive with the national outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison, says the displaced middle managers have to forget about what they used to do and concentrate instead on how to make a living in the future.

″They have to put their titles aside and figure out what their basic skills are, because the title may be gone forever,″ he says.

End Adv for PMs Tuesday, Feb. 25

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