New projections on staff attrition indicate that as many as 300 employees could be laid off as Yale copes with the economic downturn, though administrators said today that the University will double severance benefits for those who lose their jobs in the next six months.

The grim economic outlook has forced the University to cut deeper into staff salaries, slating the equivalent of 500 to 600 positions for elimination. But in a letter to Yale managers today, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel said that the typical annual rate of attrition and turnover is only between 300 and 500. Since the gap cannot be closed by simply leaving open positions vacant, the difference will have to be made with some involuntary layoffs, administrators said.

“We’re using the budget reductions to relook the way work is done,” Peel said in an interview today. “And as part of that, we are trying to better accommodate people’s needs in instances we can.”

For those who are laid off, Peel said in the letter, the University will double their severance benefits – from one week of pay per year of service to two. All of these employees will be guaranteed at least four weeks of pay, Peel said, and no one will get more than 52.

Administrators said they have not yet determined which departments will be affected by the cuts. Employees who are laid off, though, will have priority if there are job vacancies elsewhere in the University. A Career Center will be opened to help employees with job search and training assistance.

Before eliminating regular staff, Peel recommended that managers first turn to eliminating overtime, temporary workers and contractors.

“Eliminating these ‘surge’ expenditures is essential to not only retaining as many staff members as possible as we weather this economic crisis, but also to demonstrate to our people that all alternatives to layoffs are being aggressively pursued,” Peel wrote in the letter.

Peel also recommended in the letter that managers work with employees to allow them to take unpaid leaves they want during this period of belt-tightening.

And, ultimately, Peel said in the letter, eliminating jobs means eliminating work.

“We are encouraging managers not to just scale back people, but also to look at work that could be eliminated,” Peel said. “Are there things that we can stop doing that is low-value work and that are work that just isn’t important?”

The boost to severance benefits means the University will not immediately see the savings from the layoffs, Provost Peter Salovey explained. But it still helps, he said, because the budget gap resulting from the endowment’s 25-percent plunge will widen over time.

As for fiscal year 2010, the University-ordered 7.5 percent cuts in staff and non-personnel costs will save an additional $37 million on top of the cost-cutting measures announced in December. Still, Yale still has not balanced the entirety of its $100 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2010.

The last large-scale layoff of Yale employees occurred in February 2004, when 76 people were cut.