PR people, if you have something unpleasant to say, just say it. Hiding it behind euphemisms doesn’t fool anyone. Today’s case study: Ford’s plan to lay off 10% of its staff, which it calls a “people efficiency action.”
According to a Wall Street Journal article, Ford will cut 10% of its global workforce to boost profits, with most of the cuts coming from salaried (white-collar) employees. The company released a statement in response. It’s almost pure bullshit:
We remain focused on the three strategic priorities that will create value and drive profitable growth, which include fortifying the profit pillars in our core business, transforming traditionally underperforming areas of our core business and investing aggressively, but prudently, in emerging opportunities. Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work. We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation.
This non-statement has an astounding meaning ratio of 0%, because everything in the statement is obvious. Bernoff’s bullshit principle says if you’re saying something every other company would say, it’s bullshit; just highlight and press delete.
Which of these statements about Ford is different from any other company?
- It is seeking growth and profit.
- It will strengthen what’s working and fix what’s not.
- It will invest carefully.
- It wants to reduce costs.
- It has announced nothing about layoffs.
Why bother? (And the last one is a fake-out: one day after saying it had not announced any layoffs, it announced the layoffs.)
How may ways can you say “we’re firing people”?
I’m so old that the first time I lived through one of these mass firings, in 1984, they actually called it a layoff. Now Ford’s “people efficiency actions” joins a long list of pusillanimous terminology intended to make you forget, for just a moment, that these are working people whose lives will be updended. The list includes:
- Reduction in force (RIF)
- Headcount reduction
- Adjusting to shifts in demand
- Force shaping
- Eliminating redundancies
- Workforce optimization
- Force shaping
- Rebalancing the level of human capital
We’re not idiots. We know these mean layoffs. But since there apparently an endless demand for new ways to say this, perhaps we need some new creative alternatives:
- Workforce shrivelage
- Reallocation of payroll expense
- Abrupt transformation of job prospects
- Conservation of human resources
- Accelerated contraction
- Staff condensation
- Involuntary enhancement of alternate employment status
- Workforce detumuescence
- Addition by subtraction
One more thing
President Trump has repeatedly taken credit for companies preserving American jobs, regardless of whether he is actually responsible.
Is he responsible for what Ford is doing? Where is the tweet?
Or is he perhaps occupied with something else right now?