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Layoff is the temporary suspension or permanent termination of employment of an employee or (more commonly) a group of employees for business reasons, such as the decision that certain positions are no longer necessary or a business slow-down or interruption in work. Originally the term "layoff" referred exclusively to a temporary interruption in work, as when factory work cyclically falls off. However, in recent times the term can also refer to the permanent elimination of a position.

Downsizing is the ‘conscious use of permanent personnel reductions in an attempt to improve efficiency and/or effectiveness’ (Budros 1999, p. 70). Since the 1980s, downsizing has gained strategic legitimacy. Indeed, recent research on downsizing in the US (Baumol et al. 2003, see also the American Management Association annual surveys since 1990), UK (Sahdev et al. 1999; Chorely 2002; Mason 2002; Rogers 2002), and Japan (Mroczkowski and Hanaoka 1997; Ahmakjian and Robinson 2001) suggests that downsizing is being regarded by management as one of the preferred routes to turning around declining organisations, cutting cost and improving organisational performance (Mellahi and Wilkinson 2004 )most often as a cost-cutting measure.

Further euphemisms are often used to "soften the blow" in the process of firing and being fired, (Wilkinson 2005, Redman and Wilkinson,2006) including downsize, rightsize, smartsize, redeployment, workforce reduction, workforce optimization, simplification, force shaping, and reduction in force (also called a "RIF", especially in the government employment sector). Mass layoff implies laying off a large number of workers. Attrition implies that positions will be eliminated as workers quit or retire. Early retirement means workers may quit now yet still remain eligible for their retirement benefits later. While redundancy is a specific legal term in UK employment law, it may be perceived as obfuscation. Firings imply misconduct or failure while lay-offs imply economic forces beyond one's control.

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