Tag Archives: Economic Crisis

To RIF Or Not To RIF– Is That The Question?

20 Feb


There’s a fine article in the Omaha World-Herald about the ongoing debate of whether to sever employees or institute salary freezes/ cutting back hours as options to reduce costs given the tough economic climate. A number viewpoints are offered about both approaches. The article also raises an important issue about management and how any effort should be approached– here’s David Sokol, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway-owned MidAmerican Holdings Company:

In such cases, though, businesses sometimes become shortsighted,  Sokol said. They don’t realize that if they’re not careful, they could lose an awful lot of their best talent.

“Step number one is to make sure that you’re communicating openly and honestly about what’s going on, so that they’re not just hearing rumors. Because, frankly, your employees tend to be lot smarter (than that) . . . they normally know well ahead of your telling them.

As I’ve started in previous posts, it’s probably beyond my pay grade to advise a company whether they should conduct a RIF or salary cutbacks. I do think it my charge to continue pointing out that the success of either tactic will depend heavily on how management goes about it, including communicating in the way Mr. Sokol advises.

“Will Corporate Giving Suffer In The Crunch?”

19 Feb


The Times Online asks this important question, one which I hope all employers are carefully considering. I may be more sensistive to this as a former nonprofit executive, who knows how important corporate giving is to providing needed services in a community. Cadbury is featured in the article as one company that is holding firm:

These are uncertain times for charities dependent on corporate giving but Cadbury – associated with philanthropy since its Quaker founders created the Bourn-ville workers’ village in 1895 – insists that it, for one, will continue to give in the recession.

“It’s part of our heritage,” said Cheryl Phillips at Cadbury. “It brings a sense of cohesion to the company, increases employee engagement and develops our people.” my emphasis)

The article also points out another factor that should be considered– employee engagement– which is the theme of this blog. I know of many employers who have seen these same benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR)– connections in the community, growth in skills, helping the brand image, a sense of satisfaction for employees involved in charitable work– these can bring a nice ROI to a company that is genuinely committed to giving back.

I certainly understand that times are tough and cutbacks may be necessary, but I encourage all employers to add employee views into the mix before making any significant changes to corporate giving.

Onboarding– Even More Important Than Ever

15 Feb


According to a study published at CNN/Money.Com, getting employees off to a great start is even more important than ever:

Engaging employees early in their career with a new company is essential to employee satisfaction, retention, and performance, says data from the latest Human Capital Management benchmark report from Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks Company (NYSE: HHS). Effective onboarding of new employees is so crucial that 50% of more than 600 human resources, talent management, and line of business executives surveyed and interviewed by Aberdeen in December 2008 and January 2009 for this study indicate that the current state of the economy will increase the importance their organization places on onboarding in 2009.

Aberdeen’s research found that the percentage of organizations with a formal onboarding process has grown from 62% to 68% over the past year. In addition, two-thirds of Best-in-Class organizations are now beginning the onboarding process before the new employee’s start date, nearly one-half of which are starting the process as soon as the employment offer is extended. “Best-in-Class organizations are utilizing a formal onboarding process to drive positive impact in the pre-hire and through the new employee’s first year with the company,” said Kevin Martin, vice president and principal analyst, Human Capital Management at Aberdeen. “In fact, at the majority of Best-in-Class organizations, onboarding is seamlessly integrated with both recruitment and performance management.”

I continue to be amazed at how many employers, who desparately want an engaged workforce, do such a rotten job of assimilating new employees. Let’s committ to starting the engagement process the day a person applies for a job at our company, and continue  that effort relentlessly– our survival may depend on it.

(Image courtesy http://www.lumaxart.com/)

Think You Know What Your Employees Are Thinking Right Now? Think Again.

9 Feb


Salary.Com Inc. has conducted a survey of employee and employer perceptions about employee job satisfaction and intent-to-stay. The study, reviewed at Occupational Safety & Health Online reports:

According to the survey, employee satisfaction levels are often overestimated by employers. A set of questions new to this year’s survey found that the current economic climate was less of a deterrent to job seeking than employers anticipated, while variables such as income, job level, industry and age remained consistent factors that affect job satisfaction year-over-year.

Key data points:

• Overall, the survey showed that 65 percent of employees are at least somewhat satisfied in their jobs while employers estimated that figure to be 77 percent. 
• Approximately 65 percent of employees admitted to passively or actively looking for a new job, compared to employers’ estimate of 37 percent. 
• While employers have a good sense of overall employee satisfaction, they often overestimate the degree of extremely satisfied employees nearly 2 to 1. 
• The levels of satisfaction among employees surveyed varied by job level and salary. Not surprisingly, the results of the survey suggest there is a direct link between pay and satisfaction — the higher the salary and job level, the greater the number of extremely satisfied employees. 
• Age affects job satisfaction — millennials report the lowest job satisfaction.

Perhaps this study doesn’t shock you, but it does reveal an important insight that should call us to action–the best way to find about how employees are feeling is to ask them. We need to do a much better job of listening, really hearing, what our associates are feeling right now.

“Survivors Guilt”– Impacting Engagement & Productivity

7 Feb

There’s a very sobering article in Time Magazine about so-called “Survivors Guilt”, the feelings of those working at a company that just went through a layoff and are still working– they survived the RIF. The article describes this syndrome:

Losing your paycheck in a recession is certainly awful, and those who hold on to their jobs are no doubt better off than their fallen colleagues. But watching colleagues pack their things and go — and dealing with guilt that it wasn’t you, anxiety that you might be next, exhaustion from the extra work you must take on and even envy of those who get to leave such a sullen environment — that’s not much cause for celebration. “Companies use the word affected with people who lose their jobs — the implication being that the people who remain aren’t,” says Joel Brockner, a social psychologist and professor of management at Columbia Business School. “They’re very much affected.”

Here’s how it feels to be one of the lucky ones: “It’s depressing,” says a market researcher in New York City who recently watched an entire division of her company be jettisoned. “You walk into the office and it’s quiet, the entire atmosphere is different. When someone gets promoted you want to say, ‘That’s great,’ but then you realize they got the job because the two other people in that group got laid off; this person was cheaper. You start feeling evil. People say at least you have a job, you should be grateful. Well, I’m not sure how happy I am. And then I feel selfish about that.”

The terms psychologists toss around to describe these feelings include survivor’s guilt (why him and not me?), survivor’s envy (thinking you might be better off gone too) and emotional contagion (the tendency to pick up your laid-off colleagues’ feelings of gloom and desperation). These feelings are with us in every recession, but as layoffs spread to more industries, people in all walks of life are increasingly experiencing them.

Fellow blogger Robin Tucker at The Proper Angle offers excellent advice to assist survivors. Her counsel is similar to what Leigh Branham and I have seen in our work in Beating the Bear Market with Engaged Employees.


  • What can we do to make sure that departed employees are treated with dignity, so that their transition is as smooth as possible?
  • How can we work to allow “surviving” employees the communication channels they need to deal with their own feelings about this event?
  • Can we train our managers to more effectively spot employees who are not dealing well with this change?

Disabled Unemployment Rate

6 Feb


I’d like to call your attention to a serious labor and social problem– the unemployment/underemployment of the disabled. The report published at Occupational Safety & Health Online gives the numbers:

The Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy released the first employment and unemployment data on Americans with disabilities this morning. This began a monthly data series that “will assist the nation in understanding how changing labor market conditions affect Americans with disabilities. Although it is widely believed that this group typically faces a higher rate of unemployment than individuals without disabilities, official estimates were not available until now,” the DOL news release said.

This morning’s release showed the unemployment rate for disabled Americans in January 2009, 13.2 percent, was 59 percent higher than the unemployment rate for non-disabled Americans in the same month, 8.3 percent.

“Now that so many Americans are suffering job losses, there is a tremendous amount of attention being paid to employment problems and solutions affecting the general population. Americans with disabilities typically experience similar employment difficulties, even when there is a robust economy. The economic downturn may just exacerbate their struggle. These data will go far toward efforts to increase the employment of people with disabilities,” John Davey, deputy assistant secretary for ODEP, said in the release today.

Are we missing an opportunity to hire people who are ready and able to work? As  the category of this blog post admonishes: Disability Isn’t Inability.

An Outcome Of The Economic Crisis

5 Feb

An article in the New York Times points to one clear symptom of employee engagement in the midst of this economic crisis– an increase in contact with employee assistance programs. The article, in part, states:

A widely available but often ignored corporate perk — the employee assistance program — can help workers who are suddenly facing a layoff, as well as those who worry that the same fate will befall them.

E.A.P.’s, which generally are managed by counseling firms or divisions of health insurance providers, offer advice on family relationships, drug and alcohol problems and dollars-and-cents issues, among other matters. With so many people out of work because of the recession, and signs of economic rebound hard to glimpse, the number of calls to the programs has skyrocketed.

Aetna Behavioral Health, part of Aetna Inc., the health insurer, said it saw a 60 percent increase in program members seeking help in the third quarter of 2008, versus the same period of 2007. Financial stress was the main source of the increase, Aetna said.

“We’re hearing more and more people raising financial and economic concerns,” said Dennis Derr, who runs the firm’s E.A.P.’s. “We started noticing that trend in the middle of last year, with people saying they’re in debt or concerned about being laid off.”

In our research study, Beating the Bear Market with Engaged Employees , we identify five differentiators that can make a positive impact on employee engagement in the midst of these tough times, and taking care of employees is front and center.


  • Do you have an EAP program?
  • If so, is the program well publicized?
  • Can you help managers to encourage the use of services such as EAP?

Business Advice From Those Who Have Survived Tough Times

3 Feb
In yesterday’s New York Times author Paul B. Brown presents advice from business owners who have survived past economic downturns. Here’s the counsel from one leader:

1. Continue marketing. “Being consistently visible demonstrates to both existing and potential customers that you are stable and in for the long haul.”

2. “Take advantage of the trickle-down effect in hiring great talent. Unfortunately, there are many people out of work right now. But the larger talent pool means opportunities for small businesses that do have the means to bring on new employees.”

3. Give back to the community. It is “a great way to keep employee morale strong during hard times, stay busy when business is slow, and get your name out by donating time. Aside from all that, it’s the right thing to do.”

In an earlier post about a potential Silver Lining I mentioned that from a talent perspective this could be a time when companies will be able to hire individuals who may not have been on the market a few months ago. I encourage any leader to consider the advice in this column– there will be opportunities out there for those who are willing to see them.

Engaged Employees Less Worried About Personal Financial Future

3 Feb
A study out today, published by CNNMoney.Com reports that employees who are more enagaed at work have generally less anxiety about their own financial future. The authors of the report state:
This research certainly complements the studies we’ve been conducting of employee engagement in the midst of this economic crisis. Employees are very concerned, which is showing in their overall engagement.

In a survey of employee opinions, the Kenexa Research Institute (KRI) investigated the extent to which the current economic conditions cause workers to worry about their personal financial well-being as well as intentions to delay or cancel anticipated purchases. Additionally, workers in the United States were asked about their feelings toward organizational leadership and the effectiveness of business processes at work.

Results indicate employees’ feelings about their own personal financial well-being are strongly influenced by their experiences at work. Not surprisingly, an important factor influencing how employees feel about work is how effectively they feel their organizations are being led.

Workers who have unfavorable views of their leadership are much more likely to report being worried about their personal financial situation, which was found to be strongly related to stated purchasing intentions. Specifically, employees who rate their leadership unfavorably are much more likely to express concern regarding their personal financial situation compared to those who have favorable views of their leadership’s effectiveness. In addition, those who rate their leadership unfavorably are twice as likely to state that they are delaying current purchases.

This certainly complements the research we’ve conducted about employee engagement in the midst of these difficult economic times. Please review our report Beating the Bear Market with Engaged Employees

The Economy and Employee Engagement

31 Jan

This image is such a sad but accurate view of how many of our employees feel right now.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve had a layoff. Jobs eliminated. Severance checks issued. Outplacement services offered. Unemployment insurance forms completed.

The next day, some of our associates will return to work– is this the image they will see? Not literally, of course, but do they see weeds and cracks and tattered signs? Our research indicates that is just how many employees feel, and those feelings are leading to significant drops in employee engagement.

Although these feelings are perfectly natural, we nonetheless need to find ways to address them. The research that Leigh Branham and I have done, in partnership with Quantum Workplace, offers five key ways you can do that right now. Check out my page “Beating The Bear Market”… for an article and link to a free webinar.