Mass layoffs are terrible for shareholders, a new study finds. But there are 10 cost saving options that work better

May 15, 2023, 11:09 AM UTC
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Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

Good morning,

Do mass layoffs reflect poor management? That’s up for debate. But a new analysis suggests the practice harms shareholder returns, and companies should instead consider tactics like a four-day workweek to cut costs.

CFOs tend to underestimate the “organizational drag” that’s created as a result of layoffs, according to the research and advisory firm Gartner. This can inadvertently reduce shareholder returns in the long term instead of protecting them, an analysis finds.

“The first thing to recognize is that there is an immediate upfront cost to layoffs as a business will need to reorganize itself around a smaller group of employees and typically incur costly upfront severance payments,” Vaughan Archer, senior director of research and advisory in the Gartner Finance practice, said in a statement. And what will follow is an increased need for contractor hiring, which can be costly, and remaining employees have a ton of more work and more demands for increased compensation, according to Archer.

Within three years, the forecasted savings from layoffs tend to become offset by the unforeseen consequences, Gartner said. Even if a business avoids “a vicious cycle of employee turnover” driven by overworked staff and low morale, any cost savings from layoffs will likely be lost. And when businesses start to rehire at some point, it will likely be at higher rates than the employees who were laid off.

“In the more negative scenarios, the factors detailed here are also going to harm growth in existing and new business, and ultimately a firm will start losing its customers,” Archer said.

Four days instead of five

A four-day workweek is one of the 10 cost savings actions companies can take instead of mass layoffs, Gartner suggests. Trimming the traditional workweek model to four days is “not about cutting pay, but may control pay growth and staff turnover as employees find better work-life balance and increased productivity as burnout is reduced,” the firm noted.

This work dynamic has certainly been a hot topic of discussion. Monster conducted a survey of 868 workers in March focusing on work productivity. Sixty-one percent said they’d rather have a four-day workweek and 33% say they’d leave their job for one with a shortened week. 

Britain announced in February the results of the world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week, Fortune reported. The six-month pilot included over 60 companies and just under 3,000 to feedback on the “100:80:100” working model: 100% pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% productivity. The results included a 65% reduction in the number of sick days, maintained or improved productivity at most businesses, and a 57% decline in the likelihood that a worker would quit, improving job retention.

Andrew Barnes is the cofounder of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, helping organizations in various countries, including the U.K., pilot shorter schedules. Barnes also owns Perpetual Guardian, one of New Zealand’s largest corporate trustee companies. During MIT Sloan Management Review’s virtual summit on May 4, he talked about his company’s experience. 

“We implemented the four-day workweek five years ago,” he said. “We’re twice as productive on a per capita basis now as our nearest competitor. We’re not seeing any adverse impacts.”

Voluntary reduction in hours, internal redeployment, reducing executive compensation, remote work, voluntary leave of absence, a hiring freeze, benefit cuts, organization-wide pay cuts, and sabbaticals are the other options companies can take instead of mass layoffs, Gartner advises.

If the livelihood and well-being of employees and shareholder returns are on the line, there’s a lot to consider before deciding on a major workforce reduction.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

Microsoft has released its 2023 Work Trend Index report, “Will AI Fix Work?” The pace of work has accelerated faster than humans can keep up, and it’s impacting innovation, according to the report. “This new generation of A.I. will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft chairman and CEO, said in a statement. The report shares three key insights for business leaders: digital debt is costing innovation, there’s a new A.I.-employee alliance, and every employee needs A.I. aptitude.

Amid fears of A.I. job loss, when asked what they would most value A.I. for, business leaders were two times more likely to choose "increasing employee productivity" (31%) than "reducing headcount" (16%).

The findings are based on 31,000 people in 31 countries, an analysis of both Microsoft 365 productivity signals, and labor trends from the LinkedIn Economic Graph.

Going deeper

"A.I. Can Be Both Accurate and Transparent," a new report in Harvard Business Review, examines the question: Is there always a tradeoff between accuracy and explainability in artificial intelligence? The research tested a wide array of A.I. models on nearly 100 representative datasets and found that 70% of the time, a more-explainable model could be used without sacrificing accuracy. In many applications, less transparent models come with substantial downsides related to bias, equity, and user trust, according to the report.


Sarah Wells was promoted to CFO at Spruce Power Holding Corporation (NYSE: SPRU), an owner and operator of distributed solar energy assets across the U.S., effective May 19. Wells succeeds Don Klein, who is departing in connection with the previously announced transition from XL Fleet to Spruce Power executive management. She joined Spruce Power in 2018, and most recently served as SVP of finance and accounting and head of sustainability. Before joining the company, she held various financial roles including finance and SOX manager at Cornerstone Building Brands (formerly NCI Building Systems, Inc.). Earlier in her career, Wells served as a senior auditor at PKF Texas.

William Bardeen was promoted to EVP and CFO at The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), effective July 1. Roland A. Caputo, who announced his planned retirement as CFO in December 2022, will remain with the company through Sept. 30 for a transition period. Bardeen, 48, joined The New York Times Company in 2004. He’s served as chief strategy officer since 2018, also overseeing investor relations on an interim basis since March. Before that, he was SVP of strategy and development from 2013 to 2018. Bardeen has also served in various other leadership roles at The Times in corporate development, business development, and strategic planning. Before joining the company, he was a management consultant.


“My personal belief is it will be like that movie Her with Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix: Humans are a bit boring, and it’ll be like, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘You’re kind of boring.’”

—Emad Mostaque, CEO of the fast-growing London-based startup Stability AI, which popularized the text-t0-image generator Stable Diffusion, hopes A.I. will find us “a bit boring” but acknowledges that in the worst-case scenario it "basically controls humanity," he told BBC in an interview

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