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Microsoft may drag out layoffs for a year

Long periods of uncertainty about who goes, who stays, can corrode a company's morale

July 18, 2014 06:23 AM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft yesterday said it could take as long as a year to lay off the 18,000 workers who will be eventually shown the door, making for a long, drawn-out morale-busting process that was criticized by both labor experts and industry analysts.

"I'm definitely not a fan," Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said of the lengthy process.

"You owe it to your long-term Nokia and Microsoft employees to do it as quickly as possible," added Miller, who, like many of his colleagues the Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm, is a former Microsoft employee. "You also owe it to yourself to do it as cleanly and quickly as possible. The longer it drones on, the more randomized people get."

According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (and an identical press release), Microsoft said it would "substantially complete" the layoffs by the end of this year, and that the process would be "fully completed" by June 30, 2015.

In its previous biggest layoff -- when it cut 5,800 jobs in 2009 -- Microsoft also took up to 18 months to finish the dismissals.

"They should have learned from 2009. Morale suffered," Miller said of the months of uncertainty when workers wondered whether they would be laid off.

Mini-Microsoft, an on-again, off-again blogger who is purportedly a current Microsoft employee, agreed with Miller in the first post to the website since former CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement nearly a year ago.

The 2009 layoff "was implemented so poorly, with constant worries and concerns and doubts about engaging in new ideas due to expectations those would be the easiest to trim during ongoing cut-backs," Mini-Microsoft wrote Thursday. "When was it over? When was the 'all clear' signal given?"

The blog went on to say, "If this truly drags on for a year: we need a new leader. This needs to be wrapped up by the end of July. 2014."

Comments on the blog expressed the hope that the ax would fall quickly. "When you take a [Band-Aid] off, you just grab hold and rip," wrote one person, voicing a sentiment echoed by dozens of anonymous commenters.

Other comments on the blog suggested that some layoffs had taken place immediately. It was impossible to verify the authenticity of those comments, however.

"Most of the follow-up emails I've seen suggest that it will be a quick process (C+E, OSG, Devices, etc.) for those in Redmond who should find out today if they are about to be axed," wrote another unidentified commenter. The writer was referring to Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise, Operating Systems and Devices groups, which are led, respectively, by Scott Guthrie, Terry Myerson and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

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