What is a Reduction In Force (RIF)?

Learn about Reduction In Force (RIF): a permanent workforce reduction strategy. Discover its importance, alternatives, execution tips, legal aspects, and pitfalls. Navigate challenging changes effectively.

Ivor Colson


1. RIF Overview: A Reduction In Force (RIF) is a permanent workforce reduction carried out by organizations to cut costs or adjust their headcount due to changing circumstances.

2. Different from Layoffs: RIF is distinct from temporary measures like furloughs or layoffs. RIFs are permanent, while furloughs and layoffs can potentially lead to a RIF if conditions don't improve.

3. RIF Importance: RIF is a tool to help organizations streamline operations and optimize resources during challenging periods or changes.

4. Reasons for Planning RIF: RIFs might be planned due to budget constraints, inefficiencies, mergers, changes in strategy, market challenges, and technological advancements.

5. Alternatives to RIF: Before executing a RIF, consider alternatives like temporary pay cuts, reduced hours, freezing benefits, implementing company shutdowns, forcing vacation use, and consolidating offices.

6. Burnout Consideration: RIF planning should factor in employee burnout, which can be exacerbated by a RIF's impact on workload and morale.

7. Executing a RIF: To successfully implement a RIF, plan communication strategies, train managers, prepare FAQs, and offer outplacement services to help departing employees transition to new careers.

8. RIF Pitfalls: Be cautious of reduced trust, lowered morale, and increased turnover resulting from inadequate communication and support during the RIF process.

9. Legal Considerations: Different jurisdictions have laws governing workforce reductions, such as the WARN Act in the US and specific regulations in the UK.

10. Goal-Oriented Planning: When planning a RIF, focus on organizational goals, evaluate each position's value, consider diversity and inclusion, and adhere to legal and ethical guidelines.

What is a RIF?

A RIF, short for reduction in force, is when an organisation permanently removes employees. A RIF often happens as an organisation finds itself in circumstances where it needs to reduce payroll costs or its headcount. 

What is the difference between a RIF and a layoff?

A RIF is different to furloughs and layoffs. The key differentiator is that a RIF is permanent. Furloughs and layoffs are intended to be temporary at the outset, although they may turn into a RIF if the circumstances for the organisation don’t change.

Why is a RIF important?

Organisations go through changing circumstances that require the need to streamline operations, and optimise resources.  A RIF is a tool that can be used to help your organisation navigate through those changes.

Why might you plan a RIF?

When COVID-19 hit, there were huge changes and uncertainty for many businesses. This resulted in furloughs, layoffs and eventually RIFs. 

Advances in technology can also bring about huge changes in how we work. Technology can lead to the reduction in need of certain positions. It can also lead to a change in skills required for organisations. 

RIFs are also important to consider when an organisation goes through a period of budget constraints, workforce inefficiencies and also corporate restructuring. 

Fundamentally, a RIF is important to consider when an organisation goes through a challenging period and/or a period of change, and it looks to stabilise its operations. 

You might consider planning a RIF due to the following reasons:

1. Budget cuts

2. Mergers and acquisitions

3. Changes in strategy

4. Market headwinds

5. Workforce inefficiencies

6. Advances in technology

What are some alternatives to RIF?

Performing a RIF is a permanent and significant change for your organisation. Before deciding to go ahead with a RIF, consider alternatives solutions to the issues you’re experiencing: 

Temporary pay cut

A temporary pay cut reduces your employees' salaries for a specified period.

Reduce hours

Another alternative is to reduce the number of hours worked by your employees.

Freeze benefits

You might also consider suspending or limiting certain benefits such as salary increases, bonuses, promotions, or other non-essential perks.

Implement company shut down

This involves suspending operations for a defined period, helping you to manage costs and navigate the challenges.

Force use of vacation

You can consider instructing employees to take their accrued vacation days during specific periods.

Consolidate offices 

This involves merging or centralising office locations to achieve cost savings.

These approaches can be particularly beneficial during periods of budget constraints or changes in business strategy, enabling you to streamline resources without sacrificing skilled employees through a RIF. 

By considering these options before implementing a RIF, you can potentially navigate the challenges you’re experiencing while maintaining your workforce and adaptability to evolving circumstances.

How to plan your RIF

If you do decide to go ahead with the RIF, you need to plan it appropriately. Here are some important factors to consider when planning your RIF:

1. Goals

Understand your organisational goals as a first step. This will help you define the criteria you can use to potentially select people.

Start by identifying the primary objectives of the RIF, such as cost reduction, realignment of resources, or adapting to market changes. Define the desired outcomes, like specific workforce size, skill sets, or departmental structures. 

Consider the organisation's long-term goals and the impact carrying out a RIF. For example, if one of your goals is to up skill the digital skills in your organisation, this should be reflected in determining the skills and employees to retain. Ensure that you prioritise retaining key talents that align with future goals.

2. Evaluate the value of each position

Valuing the necessity of each position in your organisation is essential in understanding whether you can maintain a high level of service with reduced employee numbers. 

This requires objectivity and people insights can assist you with this. Looking at performance scores, salary costs of groups of employees and understanding the role’s future in line with your organisational goals can give you some insight into the value of each position.

3. DEI

Consult diversity, equity and inclusion data when determining who to select. You might have a region where your workforce comprises a number of ethnicities, and so you want to ensure you don’t select a large percentage of employees from a minority in the RIF. Protected groups are usually those of a particular race, religion, gender, sexuality and age. This is not only important to consider for ethical reasons, but also to avoid legal action, which is the next point.

4. Review legislation

It’s important to review all legal implications related to a RIF to ensure you are acting in accordance with the law. This will differ depending on the jurisdiction your organisation operates in. 

United States

In the US there is the WARN act. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act is a United States labor law that requires certain employers to provide advance notice to employees before implementing significant layoffs or plant closures. The main purpose of the WARN Act is to give workers and their families time to prepare for the potential loss of employment and to mitigate the negative impacts of sudden job loss.

Key points of the WARN Act include:

Notice Requirement 

Employers covered by the WARN Act must give employees and relevant government agencies at least 60 days' notice before a plant closure or a mass layoff involving a certain number of employees. This notice period allows employees to seek alternative employment or retraining.

Covered Employers

The Act generally applies to private businesses with 100 or more full-time employees, as well as some public entities. Part-time employees are counted to determine whether the threshold is met.

Triggering Events

The WARN Act is triggered by certain events, such as a plant closure affecting 50 or more employees or a mass layoff involving at least 50 employees if they make up at least 33% of the workforce at a single location.


Some situations, such as unforeseeable business circumstances or natural disasters, may exempt employers from providing the full 60-day notice.

Notice Recipients

Employers must notify affected employees or their representatives (e.g., labor unions), as well as appropriate state and local government entities.


Employers that fail to comply with the WARN Act may be required to pay back wages and benefits to affected employees. Penalties can be substantial.

It's important to note that the specifics of the WARN Act can vary depending on the state in which the employer operates. The Act aims to balance the interests of both employers and employees during times of significant workforce changes.

United Kingdom

There is not a direct equivalent of the U.S. WARN statute in the UK. Instead, according to Littler, even small RIFs involving as few as one require individual consultation and can often take at least 14 days to implement. 

Collective consultation with elected representatives (even in non-unionised businesses) will be required if 20 or more employees are impacted and can require 45 days to implement.  

In the UK, Planning at this stage must account for certain legal requirements in the UK, including minimum consultation periods and the requirement to notify the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) of the proposed redundancies.

Where an employer is proposing to dismiss 20 or more employees at one establishment in a 90-day period:

  • 30 days before the first dismissal takes effect for 20-99 redundancies; or
  • 45 days before the first dismissal takes effect for 100 or more redundancies.

5. Understand risk to burnout

Burnout has been on the rise in recent years, with 59% experiencing burnout in 2022. This creates negative effects for both the organisation on the individual. For the organisation, burnout increases likelihood to turnover, creates additional healthcare costs and results in disengagement and absenteeism. For the individual, burnout leads to decreased mental, negative effects on physical health and hampers career development. 

Factoring for burnout when planning a RIF is therefore important. A RIF can exacerbate existing burnout among remaining employees. Secondly, a reduced workforce might mean increased workloads for those remaining, potentially intensifying burnout risk. Thirdly, addressing burnout demonstrates empathy and ethical responsibility, by preserving the well-being of employees who contribute to the organisation's success. Lastly, neglecting burnout can harm the organisation's long-term performance, hinder post-RIF recovery, and damage your employer reputation. 

By factoring in burnout, a more considerate and sustainable RIF strategy can be devised, minimising negative impacts and supporting the mental health of employees.

Understanding insights that predict the impact of burnout and turnover is essential when carrying out a RIF

How to action your RIF

Now you’ve planned your RIF and selected the appropriate employees. Another difficult stage is actioning the RIF. It's not an easy conversation, but with the right communication and support you can act in the right way. 

Here are some tips from us:

Before the RIF

Plan how 

Craft a clear, concise, and empathetic message that explains the reason for the RIF, the criteria used for selection, and the overall impact on the organisation. Address the message to all employees, not just those affected.

Decide on the most appropriate channels for delivering the message. This could include in-person meetings, emails, virtual town hall sessions, or a combination of these methods.

For employees who will be directly affected, schedule individual meetings with HR representatives or managers. During these meetings, provide personalised information about their situation, including severance packages, benefits, and resources available to them.

Plan the timing of the communication carefully. Give yourself enough time to prepare, but also ensure that the message is delivered well before the actual RIF to give employees time to process the information.

Manager training

Conduct training to equip managers with the skills necessary to handle this challenging task effectively. Managers need to learn how to convey the difficult news in a compassionate and respectful manner, taking into consideration the emotional impact it may have on affected employees. 

This training should emphasise the importance of providing clear and accurate information about the reasons behind the decision. Additionally, active listening techniques are important to address questions and concerns, as well as strategies for maintaining morale among remaining team members. By undergoing this training, managers are better prepared to navigate the complexities of communicating a RIF message, fostering a supportive environment even during difficult times.

Prepare FAQS

Ensure that all leaders and managers are aligned with the message and are prepared to answer questions from their respective teams. This consistency is crucial to avoid confusion and rumours.

Organise open forums, either in person or virtually, where employees can ask questions and express their concerns. This provides a platform for addressing common queries and alleviating anxieties.

After the RIF: Offer outplacement

These services play a vital role in helping individuals navigate the challenges of job loss and career transition. Outplacement services typically include career counselling, resume writing, interview coaching, and job search assistance. 

By providing access to these resources, employers assist displaced employees in reentering the job market more effectively and with greater confidence. Outplacement services not only alleviate the stress of sudden unemployment but also reflect positively on the company's reputation, showcasing a commitment to its workforce beyond just operational changes. 

Ultimately, these services empower individuals to embark on new career paths, minimising the disruption caused by the RIF and fostering a positive outlook for their future employment prospects.

RIF pitfalls to look out for

Reduced trust

The process of downsizing can easily lead to a reduction in employee trust in leadership and company values. This can occur when employees perceive the RIF as being executed without transparency, fairness, or clear communication. To prevent this pitfall, it's imperative for leadership to maintain open and honest dialogue throughout the process. Clearly explaining the reasons behind the decision, the criteria for selecting individuals affected, and the plans for supporting both departing and remaining employees can help mitigate distrust. 

Lowered morale

The announcement of layoffs can create a sense of uncertainty and anxiety that permeates the workplace, leading to a decrease in overall employee morale. To avoid this pitfall, it's essential for leadership to demonstrate empathy and provide consistent communication throughout the process. Offering transparent explanations about the necessity of the RIF, the company's future plans, and the support available for affected employees can help alleviate the negative impact on morale. 

Increased turnover

The announcement of layoffs can create a sense of instability and uncertainty, prompting both departing and remaining employees to explore alternative job opportunities. To avoid this pitfall, it's crucial for leadership to prioritise transparent and empathetic communication. Additionally, a RIF can cause the employees that remain to take on excessive workloads and potentially burning out. This is likely to lead to burnout. By using people data to adequately plan and ensure workloads are feasible, you can reduce the likelihood of turnover.

Frequently asked questions about RIF

RIF vs Layoff: What’s the difference?

A RIF is a specific type of workforce reduction characterised by strategic decision-making and resulting in permanent job loss, while a layoff can encompass a variety of workforce reduction scenarios, including temporary measures, and doesn't necessarily indicate a permanent separation from employment.

What is the RIF acronym?

RIF is short for Reduction In Force.

What is the meaning of RIF in business?

A RIF, short for reduction in force, is when an organisation permanently removes employees. A RIF often happens as an organisation finds itself in circumstances where it needs to reduce payroll costs or its headcount. 

What does RIF stand for?

RIF is short for Reduction In Force.