What a difference a few months make. When they agreed to merge
this spring, Bell Atlantic and Nynex pointedly passed up an
opportunity to announce the elimination of 3,000 "overlapped" jobs.
New markets would open for the merged company, they insisted,
saving the workers from layoffs. "We think we will create enough new
jobs to redeploy most of those 3,000 people," said Ivan Seidenberg,
The emphasis is shifting. The rhetorical trumpeting of layoffs,
as if they were a badge of honor, is disappearing. The negative
publicity that descended on AT&T after it announced in January that
it would eliminate 40,000 jobs was a turning point.
Now companies are choosing to highlight the potential for new
hires down the road. Announcements are increasingly in the style of
Bell Atlantic and Nynex, with their focus on growth to save jobs, and
only a footnotelike nod of acknowledgment that the 3,000 workers
might be laid off if the growth fails to materialize.
Rather than focus on shedding workers and lowering costs -- billed
until now by companies like IBM, Sears, Roebuck and Xerox as the
unpleasant but necessary means to the end of building sales by
becoming more competitive and eventually adding jobs -- the rhetoric
is changing to emphasize the end rather than the means.
Corporate America, and the consultants who help executives devise
both the strategy and the rhetoric that describes it, are softening
their earlier, harsher language, with its stress on sacrifice and
But while the words are changing, reality isn't, at least not yet.
U.S. companies are still cutting jobs, if more sotto voce.
"The pace of layoffs is way ahead of last year at this time," said
John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago
firm that tracks announcements of job cuts. They reached 230,350
through May, up 34 percent from the 171,924 in the corresponding
period last year.
The shifting rhetoric is a reaction in part to the criticism
leveled at AT&T, and in part to a political climate that has prompted
candidates in this election year to lament downsizing.
But the shift also reflects an economic reality: At many
companies, surveys show, job cutting has failed to bring the promised
growth and hiring. The new rhetoric is an attempt to deal with this
shortcoming, in language if not in deed.
The new approach shows up at companies like Allied Signal Inc.,
the huge manufacturer. Allied has taken pains lately to make clear
that for every job eliminated or worker laid off in a shrinking
division, like auto parts, a job is added, and usually a worker is
hired, in a growing one, like chemicals, plastics and fibers, a point
Conagra Inc., the food processor, while announcing in May that
6,500 workers would soon be laid off, noted that, in the words of
Lynn Phares, a vice president, "our employment has grown by 10,000
since 1992, and we aren't eliminating as many jobs as we've
SBC Communications Inc. and the Pacific Telesis Group, which
announced a merger on April 1, made no mention of layoffs. Quite the
contrary, their press release spoke of creating 1,000 jobs at the new
headquarters location in California "over what otherwise would have
been the case if the merger had not occurred."
The shift reflects a new mantra, still being developed by
management consultants, for how to justify corporate reorganizations
that still cost jobs.
"The consulting industry is pushing growth much more than in the
past," said William Matassoni, a partner at McKinsey & Co., the
consulting firm. "There was too much emphasis on let's cut back,
let's get rid of people, and not enough on how to grow once companies
become leaner and more efficient."
The new rhetoric features such jargon as "growing the revenue
line," which means increasing sales so that jobs can be added as
business expands. …