Putting the Zen in AstraZeneca

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They're all guilty of it.

Big pharma is in the middle of getting leaner and meaner. Most, if not all, of the majors are getting rid of employees. They need to cut costs to preserve profits in the face of tens of billions of dollars worth of brand-name drugs going generic and their pipelines not delivering enough to fill that void. It's a sad reality of the business.

The drug companies--heck, arguably all big businesses—try to couch layoffs in patronizing corporate-speak. For example, today AZN announced that it's going to eliminate another 8,000 full-timers between now and 2014 to save nearly two-billion bucks a year.

But here's my problem with it.

The British Astra says the workforce reduction (hate that term, too) is part of "productivity programmes." Some of the names companies use for downsizing plans are downright laughable. A layoff is a layoff. Let's call a spade a spade.

An investor audience usually likes this kind of stuff.

Cutting costs often means bigger profits. But, especially in this economy, how do you think it reads to one of the 8,000 people at AZN who will soon get a pink slip? "I'm part of a productivity programme? How nice!" Sure, a lot of those folks, no doubt, will get good severance packages. AZN says it'll spend $2 billion to send all of the people on their way. But would it be so difficult to write it more with more sensitivity and human feeling? For example: "Given current business conditions, we regrettably have had to make the extremely difficult and painful decision to layoff more of our employees than we had originally planned." Or something more along those lines.

I know they're just words, but it might make it less of a bitter pill to swallow.

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