SurThrival: Human Resources


Human resource tips to help you weather the storm

During an economic slowdown, some business owners rush into layoffs, pay cuts, or cuts to human resource (HR) activities such as training. However, these decisions can sometimes cause a net increase in expenses and decrease in productivity for the company. This checklist covers issues related to managing human resources in a down economy and suggests some management options, several of which can and should be established prior to experiencing economic difficulties.


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  • Determine your minimum and optimal employment levels. Have you developed a prioritized list that dictates which should be the first and last jobs to be cut? Do you have key personnel you must protect?
  • Brainstorm and implement measures to gather information and assess options. Such measures can include management meetings, employee surveys, inter-departmental focus groups, and an external consultant if internal analysis is insufficient.
  • Determine what parts of your business, if any, could benefit from outsourcing or automation. Make sure not to externalize your core activities.
  • Stay in touch with your employees and know whether they are content with the compensation and benefits they currently receive. If not, what improvements would they like to see? What are some creative options that may be able to balance cost savings with the ability to offer competitive salaries, retain workers, and maximize productivity?
  • Keep employees engaged and productive if business slows down. If there is not enough work to keep everyone busy all the time, consider investing their time in training, professional development, developing new products, or other improvements.
  • Involve employees in difficult discussions. Do you listen and respond to their concerns? Consult them regarding collective pay cuts or voluntary part time schedules. If you are anticipating layoffs or other difficult decisions, survey the staff or create focus groups to determine alternatives and tell them how each one would impact the business.
  • Find ways to shift focus from current difficulties and past problems to future opportunities. Consider using an "appreciative inquiry" approach as opposed to "problem solving."