Is Forced Time Off the Right Cost-Savings Solution for Your Company?

As more and more employers are looking for ways to save money in today’s economic crisis, many are reaching a decision to implement an “unpaid time-off” program. There are pros and cons to this decision – from both the employer and employee perspective. If your company is considering such a program, the article below will be worth your time and consideration. The questions asked will help you evaluate if ‘forced time off’ is a viable solution for your firm, or not worth the potential risks.

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Is Forced Time Off Fair?

March 16, 2009 , Tom Davenport, Harvard Business Publishing

One of the common approaches to dealing with this recession is for companies to ask — well, tell — employees to take time off without pay, a day every week or two. This 10 or 20% haircut is supposed to indicate that “we’re all in this together,” and that it’s better for everyone to suffer a little than to lay some people off.

While I have some sympathies with this philosophy, I’m not sure it’s either fair or wise. On the issue of fairness, if such a policy had been instituted in 1969, it might have been very fair. But in 2009 there is much less of a relationship between hours on the clock and work actually done, at least for knowledge workers. How many of you reading this post actually work only 40 hours a week? How many of you only work on official workdays? Today, most people have a continuous mixture of work and non-work activities, and it will be difficult for any knowledge worker to stop working for a day every week or fortnight. I might suggest that this is exactly what the employer wants, but that would be a cynical remark.

There is also the issue of whether the forced haircut is wise. I have problems with its wisdom in two respects. One involves the fundamental principle that all employees are equally valuable. It’s nice to pretend that they are, but we all know they’re not. Giving all employees a haircut may lead the most valuable ones to look elsewhere. There was a column in a recent Boston Globe about treating all employees (at Boston’s Beth Israel hospital) alike with regard to cuts. It’s heartwarming, but if it leads to an across-the-board haircut, might some of the best employees leave for wealthier hospitals across town?

The other potential problem is that employees, given an involuntary time chop, may look elsewhere to fill the void. They’ll freelance, e-lance, or moonlight to replace the lost income. This could lead to a variety of negative scenarios for the employer/barber who originally chopped their time. The employee might find the freelance employer more desirable, and jump ship altogether for full-time employment there. Or he might end up doing a bit of his freelance work while ostensibly on the clock for the 80% or 90% employer. I’m not saying that 10 or 20% haircuts for everyone are necessarily a bad idea. I do think, however, that they are hardly a no-brainer either. The inclination to share the pain is admirable, but it could open the door to a host of problems.

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Steps to Downsizing with an Outplacement Progam

Though it may not have occurred to you if your firm is currently experiencing difficult circumstances, making use of an outplacement service can help to strengthen the relationship between your firm and its departing employees.  In spite of the fact that economic or other circumstances may have required that you ask an employee or group of employees to leave your firm, you can show your understanding of the difficult transition they’re about to undertake, and at the same time you can thank them for their previous service to your company.  This can be accomplished by providing outplacement services to ensure they are provided with the tools to move on to the next phase of their careers as quickly as possible.

Historically when most companies downsize, they send employees off with a severance package and little else.  However, companies that want to do right by their former employees enlist the aid of an outplacement firm to help displaced employees transition quickly into new jobs, or advise them on alternate career paths that can lead them to exciting new opportunities.  

And as beneficial as this service may be for the employees, surprising to most employers, it’s also good for the company.  Benefits provided to the firm from an outplacement program can include public enhancement of the company’s image, aiding the company in its reorganization efforts, and reducing the risk of legal liability from downsized employees or government entities who decide that the company did not act in good faith in its downsizing process.

If your company is in a position where it is considering a layoff, I encourage you to consider the following action steps as you finalize your plans.

 

Action Steps

Hire an outplacement service company or consultant – Outplacement firms assist not only in helping employees transition out of the company, but also in helping the company understand the legal issues regarding employee termination. Outplacement firms provide career coaches that work one-on-one with employees by helping them to update their resumes, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare for new career opportunities.  If you’re undertaking a company-wide layoff, outplacement firms can handle the transition process for a single employee, for dozens or even hundreds of employees. And due to their experience, such companies know the type of services and support that former employees need most during this time, as well as ways to make the layoff process easier for both employer and employee.

Make an alumni program part of your outplacement strategy  – Though circumstances may require you to lay off employees in your current situation, you may find your firm needing to rehire them if the company’s financial state improves, the economic climate changes, or if new positions open up for which their skills (and existing company knowledge) would be transferable.   Adding an alumni program to your planned outplacement services allows you stay connected to valued former employees while also providing them with a way to stay in touch with colleagues and friends for support during their transition and beyond.