HR’s Role in Challenging Times

June 23, 2020 ProgressionHR

Recovery – where to now? We look at 8 things HR can do

We keep hearing it: These are unprecedented times. COVID-19 has rocked the entire world. We have never seen a sudden ‘economic stop’ in our lifetimes like this. As we know, businesses large and small are facing challenges never seen before. Global supply chains have been disrupted. Many people have lost their jobs – or face losing their jobs – in all sectors. If we’re heading for an economic downturn, there’s no secret formula for HR. So how can we, as HR practitioners, help organisations place themselves on the right side of the recession wave if it hits? How can the people function play a part in recession-proofing a company, or at least help mitigate its effects? We look at 8 key things HR can do.

1. Don’t cut training and development

We saw during the downturn of the GFC in 2008 that training and development programmes were often first on the chopping block. We also saw that companies that took this approach impacted their employees’ engagement in a negative way. But we all need to understand that training is critical, as it builds capabilities and focuses workers on the future. It sets employees up to emerge from a downturn better, stronger, faster with more optimism and commitment. As importantly, training and development is a key way to nurture and retain essential talent. Expecting a person to be grateful to have “a job” is not enough. Companies need to show employees they want to invest in their development. Taking this approach will also have the added benefit of creating a positive impact on employment brand, as people want to work in an organisation where people are as important as profits.

2. Keep employees informed

We all know companies and HR professionals need to walk a fine line between being transparent as a sign of respect to workers and not scaring them into searching for jobs elsewhere. From our experience, when in doubt, we believe you should err on the side of transparency. No one likes walking into work with no warning to find out the business is cutting half the staff that day. As we all know, fair and proper communication is a good business practice in good times and bad.

3. Move people to where they can be more useful

We can forecast what skills are required, then move and train people for the future of the organisation. As well as driving engagement and positive culture, moving people within the organisation will also impact well on your employer brand.


4. Track metrics

A business metric is a quantifiable measure that is used to track and assess the status of a specific business process. For HR, this could be productivity, absenteeism or overtime. Measuring the right things is an important start. In managing a downturn, if you don’t have metrics in place, you’ve got to get them. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark. You want to make decisions with facts and figures.


​5. Document performance

If we’re entering a recession, as some economists predict, it’s important that we in HR make sure that evaluations accurately reflect the work of employees. Importantly, we believe this isn’t about making people redundant. It’s about identifying efficiencies. What else can employees do to help maintain the health of the company?

Using a SWOT analysis, you can pull together cost-benefit information about which initiatives contribute the most to the business and its bottom line. In HR, we need to ask ourselves, “What can we eliminate, what can we automate, what can we outsource?”. We need to identify programmes that should be kept and those that should be ditched.

6. Reduce hours

​Another practical and compassionate approach to keeping employees and avoiding redundancies is alternative work schedules, such as 30-hour workweeks or nine-day fortnights. You’ll find this can reduce salary costs while preserving business continuity and keeping people in jobs.


7. Optimise outsourcing 

From the last downturn, we learnt many companies that were skittish about the economy quickly became more flexible by carefully deciding what work should be handled by employees versus that which should be outsourced. We’ve also learnt that an agile outsourcing strategy can allow organisations to reduce salary costs and pull back more quickly when the economy changes. Conversely, it’s important during a downturn to prioritise the retention of full-time staff ahead of contractors and temporary workers. Otherwise, you can breed discontent among your top people and risk losing them.


8. Lastly, we should show gratitude

It’s important we show appreciation to employees, including those who are taking on more responsibilities as others leave. This could come in the form of new titles, development opportunities or other recognition. Any show of appreciation can help quell employee’s fears that they will be the next one let go. Something as simple and inexpensive as a gift card or pizza lunch can show workers the company notices and acknowledges their efforts.


The good news is downturns eventually end

The approaching end of a downturn means as HR professionals we will need to have a plan when recovery begins. Given HR’s ability to impact positively on people and profit, this is the ideal time for HR to shine with initiatives and forward-thinking.

Simon Sinek on leadership in hard times, redundancy and keeping people


Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up today, to receive news and updates from ProgressionHR.

You have Successfully Subscribed!