You Look Like You Need a Rest

You're not being fired - you're just going on a long sabbatical.

Youre not being fired — youre just going on a long sabbatical.

Sounds like a cruel joke from a Dilbert cartoon, but that was, in fact, the word handed down to some 800 consultants at Accenture this month. Of course, it could have been worse: Another 600 consultants were simply handed pink slips. These layoffs demonstrate just how far the world has turned in a mere six months. Last fall, consulting firms of all sizes were battling to recruit the best and the brightest for what they thought would be an unending stream of e-commerce projects.

Rather than scoff at Accenture, which still employs some 70,000 people worldwide, the FlexLeave program deserves some credit. Accenture, like just about every other consulting firm out there, was caught off-guard by the severity of the tech downturn. At the same time, the company knows the situation could turn around just as quickly, and it wants to be able to bring staff back online on short notice. The last thing Accenture wants to have to do is fight to rehire the same people it let go months earlier. Those opting for the program will receive 20 percent of their salaries and continuation of their employer-provided benefits.

Its not the only consulting firm looking for innovative ways to keep talent. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that a number of firms are asking graduates with masters of business administration degrees to start next January or February, instead of in August or September. The requests arent going over that well, one firm said, but neither would cutting staff to make room for the new hires.

Mel Duvall Is Section B Editor at Interactive Week. He Can Be Reached at [email protected]