What Is RIF? How to Deal With a Reduction in Force

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what a reduction in force is and how you can cope if you are impacted by one.

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Reduction in force (RIF) is a corporate term indicating a permanent decrease in the total number of workers a company employs. This downsizing typically involves laying off employees.

If you've been laid off, it's normal to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, irritability, and anxiety. As you work through these emotions—and the logistics of your layoff—you can also start taking steps to make the next phase of your career a positive one.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the implications of a RIF, as well as what you can expect if you’ve been impacted by one.

What does reduction in force mean?

Reduction in force involves a company terminating one or more employees with no intention of refilling those positions. With a RIF, there is a permanent reduction in headcount, either company-wide or within a designated department or team.

Typically, a RIF occurs as a result of budget changes, restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, or permanent closures. RIFs do not typically imply employee fault and are not necessarily a reflection of any individual’s performance.

Reduction in force vs. layoff

In modern usage, reduction in force and layoff are often understood to mean the same thing. However, while a RIF has always been seen as a permanent termination, a layoff traditionally carried the possibility of future re-employment.

Now, if a layoff carries any impermanence, it’s typically referred to as a temporary layoff. More commonly, a company will use the term furlough to refer to a temporary pause in a worker’s employment.


What to do after a RIF

Getting laid off in a RIF can be an emotional time. Every individual is going to experience the aftermath of a layoff differently, depending on your unique circumstances and needs. It’s common to feel anxious, unfocused, irritable, or even depressed during this period. Ultimately, losing your job is a sudden transition that disrupts routines and shifts your anticipated long-term trajectory.

While this time away from work is likely unexpected, it can also provide an opportunity to assess your career goals, develop new skills, and prepare to reenter the workforce with a new sense of intentionality.

When you’re ready, here are a few things you can do as you prepare to strategically reenter the job market:

1. Reflect on your career goals. 

Give yourself space to consider what you want to achieve and how you can do it. What did you enjoy about your last role? What would you like to be different in your next one? What kind of roles might help you work toward any specific career goals you may have?

Your career goals may have changed since the last time you looked for a job. Take the time now to reevaluate, reset, and refocus your goals so that you can target your job hunt to roles that align with your current goals and values.  

2. Develop your skill set. 

Although going through a layoff can be tough, it can also be a good time to reflect on hiring trends in your individual line of work and your industry at large to strategize your next steps.

Due to ongoing shifts in technology, the World Economic Forum estimates that half of all employees globally will need to expand their current skill sets by 2025 in order to remain relevant in the job market [1]. If your layoff is part of a larger trend of layoffs in your line of work or your industry, it may be worth considering what new skills you can gain to remain a competitive candidate.

Upskilling and reskilling are two ways you might consider expanding your skill set. Upskilling involves elevating skills you already have, while reskilling involves learning entirely new skills. If you imagine your skills as building blocks, then upskilling adds height while reskilling adds width.

When to consider upskilling or reskilling

It may be a good idea to upskill if your role still exists across your industry, but most people in your role or most job descriptions for your role incorporate advanced technical skills. For example, if you are a graphic designer, you may notice that many design jobs require user experience knowledge, so you may decide to take a UX design course.

It may be time to reskill if roles like yours are shrinking across your industry (many people with your role are being laid off or there aren’t many companies looking to hire people in your job function). For example, if you are an administrative support specialist, you may notice a downward trend in administrative openings. However, you may realize you have several transferable skills relevant to project management roles and opt to expand your skill set in that direction.


Learn more: 7 High-Income Skills Worth Learning

3. Refresh your resume.

Skill development can happen naturally over time. Take the industry knowledge and experience you gained in the role you were laid off from and leverage it toward your next step. In addition to adding job experience to your resume, be sure to include any newly acquired skills you've developed during your time away from work. Include these in a dedicated skills section or highlighting specific programs you’ve completed in a certifications section.

Learn more: How to Make a Resume: 2022 Resume Writing Guide

Next steps

As you move into your next career phase, explore Professional Certificates on Coursera. Gain key skills in data analytics, project management, UX design, and social media marketing from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. Sign up for a seven-day, full access free trial to prepare for your next career move.

Article sources

  1. World Economic Forum. “Here’s why upskilling is crucial to drive the post-COVID recovery, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/01/calling-global-upskilling-movement/.” Accessed September 13, 2022.

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