NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -
There was a time that layoffs took a holiday between Thanksgiving and New Year. Not any more.
This year's holiday layoffs started when General Motors Corp. announced just before Thanksgiving that it would close a dozen facilities and cut more than 30,000 jobs.
That cutback came days after GM competitor Ford announced it would cut 4,000 jobs from its ranks of management, agency and contract employees, trimming about 10 percent of its costs there.
"It used to be taken for granted that you wouldn't do layoffs during the holidays, but that hasn't been the case for at least several years," said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. He said that today an employee is actually 54 percent more likely to be laid off in the fourth quarter than any other time of year.
"A lot of companies try to get them (job cuts) done to clean the slate before the year's end," he said.
Just last week, appliance maker Whirlpool (Research) announced it would layoff 730 workers in Arkansas next fall as it invests in a new plant in Mexico, while bankrupt auto parts maker Collins & Aikman said it would close a Michigan plant with 140 employees in the spring. Also last week BellSouth announced it would cut 1,500 employees, mostly among managers and support staff. The New York Stock Exchange announced it would trim about 60 jobs, while magazine publisher Time Inc., which like CNNMoney.com is a unit of Time Warner (Research), announced it would trim 105 positions from its business side.
In between embattled drugmaker Merck (Research) announced earlier this month that it would cut 7,000 jobs worldwide, with half of those cutbacks coming at U.S. plants.
Challenger said he doesn't recall any large layoffs actually being announced on Christmas Eve itself, and that the week between Christmas and New Year's is generally slow in making any significant announcements. And he said there are some companies that are still a bit gun-shy about holiday layoffs, which helps make the beginning of the year the second busiest time for layoff announcements.
But Challenger said that while a holiday layoff may seem heartless, corporations at least can warn the affected employees of their fate before they overspend over the holiday.
And December can actually be a good time to be looking for a new job. Many employers have to wait for a new year before they get the go ahead to fill an open position. And he said this is a good time to be out networking and trying to get a leg up on other job seekers who may be less active during the holidays.
"January is one of the strongest hiring times of the year, and a lot of the work upfront that leads to those hires goes on now," he said. "There are industry parties to go to meet people, and about 20 percent of the people out there stop looking because they think there's nothing going on. All of which makes this a good time to be looking for a job."
For a look at how there is a shortage of skilled workers even in the face of layoffs, click here.
For a look at the labor market and what it means for you and the economy, click here.