A Layoff By Any Other Name: Merck Memo Uses 12 Euphemisms for Job Cuts

Last Updated Sep 19, 2011 12:46 PM EDT

Merck (MRK) president Mark Timney recently sent his U.S. employees a memo which contains at least 12 different euphemisms for the company's planned job cuts and layoffs in October, but doesn't actually mention the words "jobs" or "layoffs."

Merck should be praised for talking openly about the fact that it needs to reduce its workforce by 13,000, in addition to the 17,000 jobs it vanished as part of the acquisition of Schering-Plough. Timney, however, appears to have swallowed a thesaurus of business-writing cliches before he began his email. At one point he describes layoffs as an "opportunity":
... the opportunity for employees in the aforementioned select areas to proactively "hand raise" and be considered for separation.
Timney's other don't-mention-the-war maneuvers included:
  • "reducing our expense base."
  • "manage our expense base"
  • "vacancy management"
  • "restructure"
  • "removing more open positions"
  • "necessary actions"
  • "we cannot promise the avoidance of such activities."
  • "restructuring exercise"
  • "affected employees"
  • "the people who are directly affected."
  • "the need for us to change our underlying operations"
Timney also seems to be a little bit confused as to whether Merck's employees ought to challenge the status quo or follow the company's "unchanged" strategy (a strategy that required a U-turn from Merck's previous strategy of refusing to cut costs):
Our strategy, which remains unchanged, reinforces the need for us to change our underlying operations and enables our ability to grow.
Rather than waffling about the need for unchanged change, the entirety of the memo could have been reduced to a couple of sentences if Timney had written them in plain English.

Read the full text of the memo after the list of related stories.

Related: The full text of Timney's memo follows:

Mark Timney, President US Market
TO: All US Market Colleagues (HQ & Field)
DATE: September 15, 2011
SUBJECT: Update on Ongoing Changes to the US Market's Business Operations


Dear Colleagues:
Merck is facing enormous challenges. The external environment is tougher than ever, with an unprecedented pace of change that continues to accelerate. Critical to Merck's need to transform is our ability to fundamentally change how we operate our business, including managing resources differently and reducing our expense base. We must challenge and prioritize every single investment choice to ensure that we are nimble, flexible and streamlined as we drive profitable growth.
The US Market is taking additional steps to accelerate plans to manage our expense base, in part because our current vacancy management approach is not allowing us to reach expense targets quickly enough. In the coming weeks, we will restructure the following select HQ functions and field groups within the US Market: Marketing & Customer Solutions; Managed Markets & Policy; Strategy & Commercial Model Innovation; and the Neuropsychiatric and Women's Healthcare specialty sales teams. Effective immediately, we will also increase the use of vacancy management by removing more open positions across the entire US Market organization. These necessary actions are part of and consistent with the important role we play in GHH's contribution toward Merck's overall transformation and, as I have stated previously, we cannot promise the avoidance of such activities.
We will move quickly in order to minimize disruption for customers, our business and employees. The restructuring exercise within the select areas will be completed and affected employees will be informed by the end of October 2011. Employee selection decisions will follow established company processes. We will also offer the opportunity for employees in the aforementioned select areas to proactively "hand raise" and be considered for separation.
Over the past few years, the US Market has made significant reductions in our organization. However, the unfortunate reality is that we must do more and move now if Merck is to be successful over the long term. Making difficult choices in select functions, based on an assessment of the business risks and opportunities identified within each area, will allow us to transform our business and capitalize on the most significant market opportunities in 2012 and beyond. In fact, we all must commit to challenging the status quo and be willing to make fundamentally different choices than in the past.
The Path Ahead
I know how difficult this is for our organization, particularly the people who are directly affected. Though this exercise affects select groups within the US Market, I've always committed to you that I will be transparent and open, and keep everyone up to date on important actions within our business. That is why I am sending this message to all colleagues within the US Market. I will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.
The US Market remains committed to growing our business over the long term and achieving our 15×15 goal in line with our values and standards. Our strategy, which remains unchanged, reinforces the need for us to change our underlying operations and enables our ability to grow. We will continue to sharpen our core business focus and invest in growth opportunities that optimize value for patients, customers and shareholders.
The US Market is a high-performing and resilient organization. I know that I can depend on you to continue to make leading contributions to Merck's long-term success and to helping our customers help their patients be well.

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