HR Topics

Planning for Recession

  • Take a look at your strategic plan, your mission statement, vision statement, values, and annual goals. Is your strategic framework sufficiently articulated to help you make it through a serious downturn? Has it been sufficiently communicated to your employees so they are not afraid, they trust their leadership, and they feel they are headed in a shared, positive direction?
    Asking them to participate in the conversation is an important commitment to utilizing your employee talent and dedication. Discussing the impact of your strategic framework: mission, vision, values, and goals, on each employees' job is the step that helps them "own" the strategic direction. Without this step - they are just puzzled. Sorry.

  • Be aware of your company's and your industry challenges. Is your product or service essential no matter what happens in the economy? Does your product save time, save money, or otherwise make itself indispensable even in a down economy? If not immediately determinable, how can you reposition your product or service so that customers begin to see it that way. The customer loyalty and the brand recognition you have built over time will become even more critical in an economic downturn.

  • Have you done contingency planning to identify your potential risks and the affects of a recession on your business or function? What potential scenarios are most likely to unfold for your organization? What will you do differently in the various scenarios you consider, and, in the short term, is there any way you can change the potential impact of the various scenarios? As an example, what areas of your Human Resources department need to change or grow to deal with an economic downturn? Staffing? Benefits? Employee morale programs? Retirement planning? Employee training channels?

  • You need to communicate that your leadership team is doing forward thinking, forward planning, and discussing possible less-than-positive contingencies. Most of your employees don't care what the specific plan is. But, it is critical to their retention and sense of well-being, that a plan exists, that they know a plan exists, and that they understand that someone is really minding the shop. And, in my experience, even the best companies are bad at communicating all of this.

Employee Impact of the Company Response to a Pending Recession

  • You may want to look at your plans for hiring employees this year. For employee morale, and to look as if the ship has a captain, it is better to decide not to hire additional staff than to risk having to downsize later.

  • If downsizing becomes necessary, deal as humanely as possible with the employees you let go and the employees who remain. Communicate, communicate, communicate during the whole process. You must appear rational, thoughtful, and fair in your process for employees to continue to trust you and to retain your position as an employer of choice.

  • Find ways to buffer your employees to minimize the impact of an economic downturn:

    • Have telecommuting policies in place.
    • Encourage employee carpooling.
    • Sponsor brown bag lunches and book clubs.
    • Provide training in-house minimizing the need for employee travel and inconvenience.
    • Effectively communicate the redeployment of any internal resources to minimize employee distress. And, change your expectations of the group that has fewer resources simultaneously.
  • Provide investment information - not recommendations - so employees can make good choices for their future.

  • Support more casual dress code policies so employees are not spending the big bucks either trying to impress or to create an entire formal set of clothing used only for work.

  • Adopt Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) so healthy employees can build up savings and less healthy employees can set money aside for health care costs.

  • Offer more team building activities for employees outside of work that are inexpensive, yet involve employee families in bonding, not in finding expensive recreational activities. Ice skating, picnics, renting a movie theater, Halloween costume parades at work, discounted tickets and transportation to sporting events, pot luck suppers, a popcorn machine and DVDs shown in the company lunch room for families, are all inexpensive ways to build the team. You are limited only by your imagination but your sponsorship of such activities is viewed as employee-friendly and employee-committed.

  • Employees will bring their economic stress into the workplace. An employee whose spouse is laid off has real and troubling economic concerns. An employee who is having difficulty selling his home, after purchasing a new home, is experiencing considerable stress struggling with two house payments.

Expect these concerns to spill over into the workplace and prepare your managers. They need to understand that they walk a fine line between expressing concern and asking questions if an employee's performance changes, and turning into counselors. Counseling is not a role for which they are trained nor is it advisable to involve themselves too deeply in the personal affairs of their reporting staff. Pay attention and coach managers who stray too far from the line.

  • Offer your employees training sessions at brown bag lunches that provide information about recession-related topics. Educate employees about how they can cut their credit card debt, how they can make and stick to a budget, and how they can increase their savings return. Offer educational sessions, too, for the Baby Boomer generation of employees, who will soon be retiring or working less, about 401(k) distribution, stretching retirement savings, and perhaps, how they can avoid retiring.

Putting these plans in place should make your business, and especially your employees, recession-proof.