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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Help for Downsized HR Professionals
Pity the messengers. Human resources professionals use
their expertise to usher the victims of cost cutting out the door.
But even as they are doing so, even as they listen to sobs and worry
about retaliation from the less stable (or more desperate), they know
that their own paychecks are far from secure.
"The main factor causing a surplus (of human resources professionals)
is mergers and acquisitions," says
of development with the Ayers Group, a human resources consulting
group with offices in Carnegie Center. When two companies join forces
there are personnel overlaps, she explains, especially in staff positions.
Human resources employees have two strikes against them in the cost-cutting
game. They do not contribute directly to the bottom line by producing
or selling products or services, and their work sometimes falls into
areas that can be considered luxuries in a soft economy. Helping employees
achieve work/life balance, for example, gets a lot of attention in
a hot economy, but can look like a frill when a company’s stock is
sinking to 10-year lows.
"Human resources professionals are retained during restructuring
to help with outplacement, etc.," says Leonard, "then they
face redundancy." At the moment there are a number of redundant
HR professionals in the greater Princeton area looking for work, and
the Ayers Group has set up a support group to help them do so.
Called the HR Networking Group, this free service is well established
at Ayers’ Connecticut, Parsippany, and New York City offices, and
has just held its first Princeton meeting at the company’s 214 Carnegie
Center offices. The group is open to downsized human resources professionals
at the level of director and above, individuals who were earning at
least $125,000 a year.
"We want to have apples with apples," says Leonard. "If
you have people who were earning $40,000 in with people who were earning
$160,000, the $40,000 people get a lot out of it, but the $160,000
people get nothing."
To join the group — which comes with rigorous expectations —
call Leonard, or her colleagues,
at 609-720-8670. Meetings are held every other Wednesday at 8 a.m.,
and the next one occurs on Wednesday, October 23.
Leonard has been with Ayers — which specializes in staffing, recruitment,
outplacement, IT consulting, and organizational effective consulting
— for just five months. Prior to that time she had been in pharmaceutical
marketing. Her home base was New York City, and her office was in
midtown. On September 11 of last year, she was "close enough to
see the burning buildings."
The experience changed her life. "I re-looked at life," she
says. "I wanted to do something closer to helping people."
She also wanted work which would allow her to spend time on volunteer
work. Sixty-hour, pressure-filled weeks in a job that required substantial
travel suddenly did not seem worth the high salary that went along
with the demands.
Casting about for a more fulfilling life, she thought of her aunt.
"She’s a job counselor in England, and she’s the kind of person
who loves her job," says Leonard. "She always has wonderful
stories to tell."
In short order, Leonard began giving her time to Children with Challenges,
offering her marketing expertise. She moved from New York City to
Lumberville, Pennsylvania, with her cat Melvin, and switched careers.
She visits New York, where her boyfriend lives in a typically-cramped
city apartment, about once a week, and is making do on substantially
less money, but betrays no doubt about the wisdom of her choices.
Leonard, who immigrated to the United States at age 20, is a graduate
of Montclair State (Class of 1992). She travels to England about twice
a year to visit her aunt and her grandparents, and then on to Spain
to visit her mother and father, who retired there after, respectively,
careers as a first grade teacher and the owner of an exclusive hotel
on the south coast of England.
Centered, funny, and upbeat, Leonard becomes serious when speaking
about the HR Networking Group. This is a no-nonsense group, she emphasizes.
of networking groups, says Leonard. At some, members spread business
cards far and wide, and go home. The HR Networking Group operates
at a whole different level.
a.m. sharp. Members need to be there. Every time. Excuses are accepted,
of course, but they had better be good. The group expects a serious
solid leads to each meeting," says Leonard. And don’t try to get
away with grabbing something off the Internet, either. "This is
the time to open your Rolodex," she says. Renew old acquaintances,
take them out to lunch. Find out what jobs are out there.
offered the job, or decide not to take it, are expected to let others
know about the opportunities.
It uses Ayers’ offices, and Ayers counselors are on hand to help with
role playing, practice interview videotaping, and give a little one-on-one
counseling, but the group is encouraged to set its own agenda. This
is not a place to just sit around, Leonard says. Members of the group
make far better use of their time, in her opinion, by scheduling speakers
and deciding on topics for future meetings well in advance — and
then preparing for those sessions.
expected to remain involved in the group. "They need to stay with
the group, give support, and be committed," Leonard says of HR
Network Group alumni. While the Princeton group is only two weeks
old, members of Ayers’ groups in other cities have taken the obligation
to help others seriously.
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