A term used to inform employees in a roundabout way that they are trapped, and that if anyone escapes, everyone else will have to do more work.1 Devised mid-20th century, but popularized during recessions in the 1980s and especially at the turn of the 21st century on the downslope of the high-tech boom (see also "dot-com craze" and "dot-com downturn"). Technically denotes a period when no new positions will be created and no vacant positions will be filled, though it can by extension be interpreted to mean that the company or government agency2 will soon downsize3 or begin using vague declarations to suggest that not only are employees trapped, but they shouldn't even THINK about asking for that raise.4 Coincidentally, rhymes with "budget squeeze." Term is typically used in human resources (see separate entry) manuals.5 Logic would dictate that its opposite would be a hiring thaw,6 though usually it is swept aside quietly once the economy swings back and recruiting7 begins anew.
1. The term is most often used in an e-mailed memo sent by executives, accompanied by reassurances meant to quell employees' unrest and to spin the media, e.g., "'We are pretty much fully staffed, and we just want to be smart about adding positions going forward,' said a Time Inc. spokesman."
2. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. ordered a government hiring freeze on Inauguration Day, following a trend at Fortune 500 companies such as Disney and Time Inc.
3. See also "layoffs," "firings," and "trimming," not to mention "getting rid of deadwood."
4. From The Washington Post, March 15, 2001: "An Education Department employee, who asked not to be identified, said 40 colleagues have not received promotions, even though they were offered and accepted before Bush took office. Lindsey Kozberg, an Education spokeswoman, said she did not have a tally of how many Education employees have been affected by the freeze. 'There was a hold put on promotions as part of the overall hold on hiring that was implemented in connection with the transition,' she said."
5. Ironically, human resources employees usually become "deadwood" during hiring freezes, as they can't train any new hires, and thus must sit around waiting until the inevitable layoffs—in which they are often included. Ha.
6. Trademark pending.
7. The next step in the cycle, involving building up a company or organization to unsustainable levels, leading to budget shortfalls, cutbacks, hiring freezes, and layoffs.
Richard A. Martin, Contrib.