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Recession is only temporary…honest

RECESSION IS ONLY TEMPORARY… HONEST

Many line managers and HR professionals feel stressed, anxious and fearful during the current recession. This can stem from the external climate of anxiety as much as specific operational realities. Stress shows itself in a number of ways, including long hours, self protection and withdrawal.To make matters worse, this is the first recession many managers will have been through; their inexperience can make the associated personal and organisational impact all the more troublesome.What should HR professionals pay attention to?

Best practice and communication
Best people practice will always be important and relevant, and should not be withdrawn, even if special measures are needed to react to economic challenges. This can be hard for leaders who focus heavily on the bottom line and have to face some hard choices.
This is a time to communicate more, not less; to be more open about what is going on within the organisation; to be creative about cost savings and consistent for all employees, and not dividing them into ‘safe’ and ‘sacrificed’.

Work motivations tend to change in hard times. Security becomes more important (in fact, the fear of recession can be more dangerous to employee wellbeing than recession itself). Involving employees in generating solutions to the economic squeeze may help to manage stress levels. Even if you can’t guarantee an employee their position, they will at least feel they’ve had a say. Those remaining will understand the reasoning behind the decisions.


Keeping a long term view is essential. All recessions are cyclic – and this one will be no exception. Organisational culture includes a large element of history. If staff numbers are reduced, organisations that use outplacement services with clear, fair selection processes for redundancy and strong communications will be remembered in better times, and repaid with loyalty and improved engagement from those remaining.


As with any cost control exercise, in a situation of fear, the first instinct is to lose individuals and cut the wage bill. But Ways HR Consulting advises HR professionals to assess pay savings in a holistic manner, weighing the real people savings of redundancies versus the hidden cost of losing talent, future hires, reduced morale and loss of faith in leadership. The fundamental demographics that led to the “war for talent” remain and will outlive this economic downturn.


Recession only emphasises the continuous need to engage talent; to find innovative ways to make employees feel valued, including work-related arrangements: changing shift patterns, extended holidays. While this may help individuals to keep their jobs, the financial impact must be taken into account. This is also a good opportunity to support individuals through partnerships, for example with debt companies or CAB, plus traditional support from Occupational Health professionals and Job Centres.


Accept and deal with stress
Stress can’t be ignored. Encouraging openness and talking through what employees are feeling can often help. Some managers are anxious about delivering bad news. They may feel guilty, knowing their employees’ personal circumstances; their own stress begins to show through detachment or other unusual behaviours. Managerial incapability to manage stress, workloads, resourcing and deliver bad news can increase team stress levels. Individuals are unlikely to ‘vote with their feet’, but the impact still shows: in higher absence levels, a lack of flexibility, a decrease in productivity, and these are the last things an organisation needs at this time.


HR must take the lead. They need to deploy their own ’emotional intelligence’, acting as role models to openly address stress while supporting managers. HR can show the way with flexible cost savings, without slashing head counts: this can include master-classes and coaching, alongside e-learning, which possibly provide a more flexible response to traditional development, enabling cost-effective activities and allowing individuals to continue their learning despite the squeeze.
It is time for HR to take a strong lead. At least part of this recession is a crisis in confidence. HR must be confident and champion what is known about best practice in people and stress management. Consistent and quality people management is a large part of the solution and should not be sacrificed when the threat or reality of recession looms.

Andrea Metcalf,



Director
of Training and Outplacement
, Ways HR 

 

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