HR personnel are largely tasked with delivering layoff news. But what happens when talent management roles are on the chopping block?
On March 19, Amazon starts its 60-day transitional period for 2,300 Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, workers laid off in January. Among the hundreds of employees set to exit in March are Amazon HR professionals, The Seattle Times reported; previously, staff on the “people experience and technology” team were laid off in November and offered severance packages. Likewise, TikTok talent acquisition staff also got booted in January 2023, after ByteDance generally reduced headcount in Russia and China throughout Q4 2022. HR Dive reached out to Amazon and TikTok for comment and did not hear back by the time of publication.
These are just two case studies in the greater landscape of corporate layoffs, and the implications of these cuts for HR as an industry are difficult to parse out.
“The labor market right now is bananas. It's really anybody's guess what's going to happen,” Cat Ward, vice president of employer mobilization at Jobs for the Future, told HR Dive. The “ethical offboarding” expert nodded to the challenges of making definitive statements about the state of the economy at this time. Still, Ward’s answer to the HR layoff question is straightforward: Talent acquisition and management is a “cost center,” she said.
On the tails of many companies announcing hiring freezes last year, Ward’s clients have told her 2023 will be a “slow year” for talent acquisition.
“When you're thinking about cutting costs, you're going to turn your eyes to parts of the business that are not lifting up your profitability and bringing in revenue,” Ward said. This line of thinking can make HR vulnerable.
Regarding Amazon’s upcoming Washington-state layoffs, the e-commerce company’s HR lead told The Seattle Times that Amazon’s hiring freezes — which HR Dive previously reported on — and its “voluntary release” offers were insufficient cost-cutting efforts.
Hiring freezes at a company aren’t automatically a death knell for human resources professionals. Ward also passed on a message from some of her clients that “the slowdown in hiring is going to allow the HR function to invest more time and energy” into existing talent. If the beginning of the pandemic was a hot time for acquisitions, Q1 2023 may usher in an era of current employee engagement and upskilling.