THE BLOG
01/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Corporate America Addicted to Layoffs?

Many of the nations' companies are in a recessionary frenzy and workers are the ones getting screwed.

Corporations are cutting thousands of jobs and slashing benefits but is there any real rhyme or reason to the employee bloodbath.

Just today, Dow Chemical Co. said Monday it will slash 5,000 full-time jobs and Post-It makers 3M Co. announced cuts of nearly 1,800 positions in the fourth quarter. This follows last week's string of big layoffs at major companies like DuPont Co. and AT&T Inc.

The media is covering all these workforce reductions as if they all make sense. No one is even asking if cutting thousands of workers right now is a good idea for employees, the firms themselves, or the economy at large.

Are these corporate managers making the right moves during tough economic times, or are they shortsighted and dumb? Sometimes the crazed downsizing measures by employers make it seem like they are junkies looking for the next fix.

There's a host of stupid cost-cutting measures I've been hearing about from the readers of my MSNBC.com column and my blog, www.CareerDiva.net:

One company decided that anyone who wants to take their accrued vacation will only get 75 percent of their pay for the time off. Another just pulled the plug on all tuition assistance even if workers were still taking classes. And another did away with sick time.

3M has an interesting strategy. According to the Associated Press today, the company is ordering some of its workers to take vacation or unpaid time off the last two weeks of the year.

Many employees across the nation are desperate and bewildered, and you can't blame them.

Right now, there are a few hundred workers staging a sit in at a Chicago factory because their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, won't pay them the severance and vacation pay they're owed.

Suddenly, companies are so broke they're taking a chain saw to operations and can't even cover benefits they promised. What the heck happened?

Did all the money in corporate coffers just vanish over night?

"There's a certain amount of panic going on because of widespread economic conditions," says Arizona-based business consultant Jamie Showkeir, coauthor of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.

"Part of the problem is the way businesses have been organized and managed," he says. "In tough times, laying off people seems like a viable option. We view people like overhead as opposed to flesh and blood human beings that show up everyday and make contributions."

And, he says, American business has become almost like "modern day feudalism where senior executives live in the palace and the rest of us live outside the walls."

Indeed, even though companies are slashing workers and benefits, CEOs seem to think there's money to burn.

The head honcho of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, thought it made sense to ask for a $10 million bonus from the board members of his company, a firm that was in such a hole earlier this year it had to quickly agree to be sold off to Bank of America. The board is pondering this payout request today.

This at a time when analysts are predicting as many as 30,000 jobs could be slashed as a result of Bank of America's takeover of Merrill.

It's a downsizing free-for-all and businesses everywhere have to take a deep breath before this economy ends up in even worse condition.

Eric Patton, a professor of management at Saint Joseph's University who researched downsizing during the economic downturn of the early 1990s, says what we're seeing now is mainly "a knee-jerk reaction to cut costs and keep profits up."

Workers, he says, have a big bulls eye on their backs in this mad dash to jump on the expense-cutting bandwagon. If one company cuts workers and benefits today, tomorrow its competitor will feel pressure to do the same or risk having a crummier bottom-line.

Based on his research, he says downsizing can have detrimental effects on workers, companies and the economy. "Downsizing of the 1990s," he explains, "created a lot of cynicism and it broke the psychological contract people had with their employers."

Maybe it's time for Congress to hold some hearings on whether mass layoffs should get a holiday reprieve to give Corporate America some time to take a economic Valium and chill.