Downsizing has become a way of life recently, although things looked up somewhat in 2010, according to the Harvard Business Review: The 529,973 job cuts announced in the U.S. in 2010 were 59 percent fewer than the more than 1.2 million layoffs recorded in 2009, the largest downsizing year since 2002, according to outplacement firm Challenger-Gray. The good news is that the 2010 layoffs were the lowest since 1997.
Whatever you call it -- downsizing, layoffs or forced reductions -- most of us are living in a work world where the load increases while staff decreases. A survey by Olstein Corp. of Melville, New York, has found more than half of corporate human resource directors report that their companies are now understaffed. This phenomenon has translated into increased stress, decreased morale, and difficulty in expanding operations.
In addition, finding qualified candidates is harder today because more companies are competing for the same skill sets. The "average" job requires more abilities -- to follow written instructions, use computers, work in teams, and analyze data. This is certainly true in the high-tech arena. One-size-fits-all hiring does not work anymore. Making good matches requires more flexibility than in the past, and common assumptions must be relinquished. Managers can no longer decide to hire only those who:
- are similar to the manager
- do not need training
- will easily and effortlessly fit in
- want a career with his or her company
These beliefs can blind managers, and therefore cause them to overlook other candidates, many of whom may be better suited to the work environment of the future.
Develop a retention program
Good employees are the cornerstone of any business. Managers must provide regular review and performance discussions, set up promotion paths, and make sure people understand what they need to move up the ladder. Create structures to help staff. Mentoring programs, special assignments, and paying for professional memberships are ways to help people thrive.
Hire laid-off employees
During upswings, hiring past employees (assuming that their performance was acceptable) is a good thing to do. They know and understand the company, will take less training time to get up and running, and probably already know some of your existing staff. This is a good morale booster for all concerned.
Training for all employees is important, never more so than now. Whether that training is basic skills, English as a second language, or technical and job specific, continual learning is a motivating and unifying force. Many bright and very capable job applicants may not have all of the knowledge or skills you need, but are eager to learn.
Hold jobs open longer
Owners and managers must assume full responsibility for integrating the workforce. If you are looking to choose from a diverse applicant pool, holding the job open longer and finding non-traditional ways to get the word out is necessary. There is a large body of excellent candidates among older individuals, women, the disabled, immigrants, and people of color.
Alternatives to full-time employees
Consider using part-time, temporary or contract workers before making the leap to creating a permanent staff position. Many highly skilled individuals work part-time for more than one employer or have their own business that they pursue part-time. Take advantage of their availability while simultaneously holding down costs. Keep in mind that contracted work no longer needs to be low-level or low-skill: presidents, chief operating officers, engineers, and technicians are now common in many industries.
Successful managers in thriving companies are opening the doors to a wider group of workers, and with thought, openness, and planning are reaping the rewards.
2010 Lowest Job-Cut Year Since 1997, Challenger Gray &Christmas, Jan. 5, 2011.
Gandolfi, Franco. "Learning from the Past: Downsizing Lessons for Managers." Journal of Management Research, April 2008.