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Layoff repercussions and a possible boomerang from career-development offerings

An item in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 86, May 2008 at 30, summarizes research on the consequences to retention rates of layoffs. Not surprisingly, layoffs often prompt demoralized survivors to leave. Even worse, I suspect, the better employees who survi andve the cuts are the ones most likely and able to find a position with another company. If a legal department endures a reduction in force (See my posts of Nov. 20, 2005: Reuters legal team slashed by 20 percent; and Sept.13, 2005: layoffs after Honeywell and Oracle mergers.), the after-shocks may include departures of more lawyers.

That point, though, is not the provocative point. “[C]areer-development programs, which of course are partly aimed at improving retention, appear to have the unfortunate effect of worsening turnover after a layoff,” says the summary. The reason for this counter-intuitive ricochet, theorize the academics who did the research, “is that such programs raise employees’ awareness of outside opportunities and make participants more desirable to other employers.”

That finding made me wonder whether career-enhancing programs for in-house lawyers might not raise their awareness of other job opportunities and burnish their skills in the eyes of those other law departments. Sadly, when you train and improve your good lawyers, you might be increasing the odds that they will leave.

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