HR Doesn’t Stand for Headcount Reduction

Late last week I read an interesting comment on a fellow HR Blogger, Charlie Judy’s blog.  The comment was this: “HR simply stands for Headcount Reduction.”  The post titled “Deadbeat Employees” and the comment thread that has evolved as of late is quite interesting but that’s not the point of this blog post today.  In short, the commenter is absolutely mistaken.  HR really has no decision making weight in headcount reduction.

Headcount decisions, layoffs, corporate resizing, and downsizing are things that in most cases middle management human resources really has no involvement in.  These budgetary decisions are made in a board room full of executives like your CEO, COO, CFO, and hopefully your CHRO.  That HR generalist or partner who briefs you on benefit changes for the upcoming year, investigates employee complaints, and pushes paperwork has nothing to do with the decision to layoff you, the employee.

Human Resources Roles

Companies with more than 20,000 employees – and depending on their number of locations – have many layers to their HR organization.  This means that your human resources representative at your office likely reports to someone else working in human resources who reports to another HR Senior Director who reports to the Regional HR who reports to the Chief Human Resource Officer who reports to the CEO.  Your office HR rep  is pretty low on the corporate food chain, but that doesn’t make their job any less important.  Their focus is you, the employee and the managers in the facilities they serve and represent their company in the best possible way.

Oftentimes in field HR roles, we are alerted to the fact before the general employee population that a reduction, RIF, or company change is happening.  Sometimes we are tasked to run reports or gather data that helps in making the final reduction decision.  Because when a reduction is being considered, organizational leaders look at things like employee performance, date of hire, or an employee’s age or protected class.

Sometimes Working in Human Resources Means Bringing Bad News

Yes, we are often times the one who delivers the message.  Similar to the corporate PR rep to the press, we must serve as the point of contact for the employee who is being transitioned out of the organization.  We represent the company and want to paint them in the best possible light.  We make sure the exiting employee receive COBRA and benefit information, answer questions, help with career transition services, and make sure you understand the company’s severance package.

Oftentimes, we in HR do this full well knowing that a day may come when we are on the receiving end as the company works to reorganize, re-evaluate, and cut the corporate fat.  So HR doesn’t stand for headcount reduction.  Quality HR, that is. Human resource professionals are tasked during a reduction in force with helping exiting employees make the transition smoothly and with dignity while ensuring that their company is removed from as much legal liability as humanly possible.

Headcount Reduction & Human Resources

No, HR doesn’t stand for headcount reduction.  It stands for human resources and a good HR professional balances both their responsibility to the employee while also the organization.  So quit your bitching and get an understanding of what your actual HR representative actually does before making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions


  1. Charlie Judy says

    man that post stirred up some stuff…really rubbed some the wrong way. and i loved the Headcount Reduction comment. sadly, many employees feel that way. even more sadly, many HR departments probably give them reason to. i like your piece…a bit of a positive PR campaign for the countless HR Professionals who take any number of arrows in the back on behalf of their employer. i think the profession, in general, could spend more time and effort helping educate its constituents on the role it (really) plays. we could use a little image makeover.

    thanks, Jess!

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      I enjoyed the post and especially the comment stream. I always laugh when that happens. I had a recent comment spur on a blog post from 2 years ago. I just hate to think how many other negative impressions we give off to the employees at our organization because they don’t really understand what we do.

      Keep the good content coming and thank you for the comment here.




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