The coming year is going to be a difficult one for many large and small businesses alike. Central to every business is the HR team, and staff and senior management will be looking to HR to hold things together when the going gets really tough.
The key to success for companies will be the continued investment of time, resources and training in their HR personnel and line managers to ensure that they have adequate skills and support when dealing with lower levels of confidence, motivation and staff morale. During an economic downturn, HR personnel can often bear the burden of stress in the workplace, as well as managing their own job insecurities.
Redundancies have already hit the City’s financial institutions, and news comes in every day of firms going under, with more and more people losing their jobs. Predictions for 2009 are gloomy. It is vital that HR personnel are completely up to speed with employment law and have accurate knowledge at their fingertips when dealing with redundancies. Not only that, but HR personnel and line managers must also be proactive in discussions with Senior Management about avoiding job cuts and exploring alternatives to redundancy in their company. It is now more than ever that organisations need to look at the different options and only make redundancies when it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Increasingly, we are getting calls from HR professionals who are seeking advice on issues such as how to handle redundancies. We can offer them specific in-house session tailored to their needs. These sessions are becoming more and more popular, especially since they are run by our team of HR experts who have had firsthand experience of managing redundancies, restructuring and change management programmes.
Employees value understanding what is going on around them, especially in these uncertain times. They desperately need to know what is going to happen to the company, how healthy it is, and specifically what is going to happen to their job.
Internal communication must be maintained, and HR personnel will be at the heart of this. Small things such as having a quick chat with an employee will help keep the lines of communication open. A regular email update or a newsletter is also a great way to keep in touch. It is up to HR to try to minimise any speculation or rumours among staff about potential job losses, as this can seriously damage morale.
The company needs to communicate regularly about the state of the business, what problems exist, or could come up, and what Senior Management is doing about them. The right information should be made available to team leaders and HR personnel so that they can cascade any relevant messages. Keeping an open door policy, proactively maintaining lines of communication, and sending out transparent messages are all key to suppressing the rumour mill. By taking employee concerns seriously and addressing them immediately as well as furnishing staff with all the information at hand, confidence levels can increase, and the workplace should function with increased efficiency and productivity.
Try to structure meetings so that employees feel included, in a non-threatening environment where they are free to ask questions and express their concerns and make suggestions about how things might be improved. Make sure a senior member of staff is present to answer any difficult questions and explain the state of the business. Any messages should be honest, direct and not toned-down in any way. Even if it’s bad news, employees will appreciate knowing the full story, rather than hearing snippets of information on the grapevine.
It’s also important to consider the future, and think about what plans to put in place for after the recession. For example, companies need to make sure that the key people with the relevant skills are still employed so that the organisation is not understaffed when things start to get busy again. It is therefore worth continuing with training and professional development during the downturn so that everyone is up to speed and ready to get going when it’s time to recruit new staff and grow the business.