Difficult Decisions: Pay Cut vs. Layoff

Would you accept a pay cut to avoid a layoff? Library Worklife is excited to summarize the results of its 2009 survey, which was available on SurveyMonkey.com from January 7 to March 4, received seventy-two responses.

In the survey’s first question, respondents were asked whether they would accept a pay cut to avoid a layoff. Of seventy-two respondents to this question, 65 (90.3 percent) said yes.

In the second question, participants who answered yes to the first question were asked the highest pay cut they would accept. Almost half (46.9 percent) would take a cut of five percent. Nearly as many (35.9 percent) would take a ten percent cut. Far fewer, however, would accept a salary reduction of fifteen percent (4.7 percent), twenty percent (6.3 percent) or twenty-five or more (6.3 percent).

The third question, which invited comments from respondents, saw a wide range of answers.

Many stressed the importance of loyalty to one’s institution and co-workers. One respondent stated “that to keep any business going the employees should be willing to do anything to help. If that means taking a pay cut, then that is what it takes. They should do it willingly as they would still have a job. We need company loyalty to start coming back in this country. That goes for the employer also.” Said another: “I’d have to be offered the right to examine the budget to see where else we could cut, but if it were an across the board comparable cut on all but the most popular and often used services and materials, I could support a personal pay cut to save my coworkers’ jobs.”

Others expressed frustration at an unequal distribution of pay cuts. One participant agreed to accept a cut “only if it was equally distributed among management and staff. NO BONUSES!!!” Another respondent said that “employees need to see sacrifice at the highest levels too. And, this extends not only to salaries, but other perks for library leadership like automobiles, travel to conferences or filling admin positions while line positions go unfilled.”

Still others stated that though they would accept a cut, they would immediately begin searching for work elsewhere. “Ouch!!!” cried one respondent. “My pay is already low for someone with my educational background. I work in a public library, and I have student loans from both undergrad and grad degrees . . . I would be extremely reluctant to take a pay cut and would only take a five percent cut if absolutely necessary—and I would begin searching for a new job in my spare moments (even though I like my position and physical locale).”

One commenter brought historical perspective to the question: “In 1971–1972, I got laid off twice from the same job (layoff, reinstate, layoff). When you are making your way through a national recession, [a] paycut is not too bad. It certainly beats both layoff and the phenomenon of the early 1930s ‘Payless Paydays’ where you opened your pay envelope and found only an I.O.U.”

Some expressed gratitude merely to be employed during a recession. One person argued that “in today’s environment, I am grateful that my company has survived. The ability to find another job is not realistic and a pay cut to ensure long term survival is acceptable. If there were layoffs now, then they would probably lead to more layoffs and a downward spiral.”

Yet another respondent argued that by accepting a salary reduction, a library employee did disservice to the profession. “Cutting pay to save staff and services creates a false sense that nothing is wrong,” according to this respondent. “Reducing staff and services shows the stakeholders that without the funds the needed services can not be provided. Eventually, staffing and funding for services will resume.”

A few respondents were willing to barter for more flexible schedules. “I would also be interested in seeing how people feel about a temporary furlough, i.e., some people may be more ok with having one unpaid day per week than a 20% potentially permanent cut where you still are working the same # of hours,” said one survey participant. Another would “be more likely to accept a pay cut if other benefits were made available, such as Flex Time. I’d also like a timeframe stating when a return to my previous salary may be possible (or a raise that still falls short of my previous salary).”

Respondents to a similar survey by MSNBC.com were less likely to accept a pay cut. Only half of those surveyed by MSNBC (46.4 percent) would definitely accept a salary decrease, compared to 90.3 percent of respondents to the Library Worklife survey. Nearly a quarter of MSNBC’s respondents (23.8 percent) would rather give up their jobs than accept a pay cut (compared to 9.7 percent of LW’s survey participants). Another quarter (29.8 percent) stated their answer would depend on the size of the pay cut. The MSNBC survey, unlike Library Worklife’s, did not collect data on what percentage of salary decrease respondents would accept.

Library Worklife thanks all participants for sharing their experiences, and hopes that none of its readers will face this difficult decision.