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February 2, 2024

Thriving through turmoil: HR leadership in a recession

A recession is characterized by a significant decline in economic activity that can profoundly impact organizations and their workforce. This blog will delve into human resource (HR) leaders' strategies, best practices they can adopt, and the importance of employee well-being during a recession.  

Eight HR strategies to implement during a recession

In times of economic uncertainty, businesses face unique challenges, and one of the key players in overcoming these obstacles is the HR department. HR leaders must adapt their strategy during a recession to address these unique challenges. Here are some key areas you can focus on:

Reviewing current policies: Assess existing policies and procedures to identify areas that can be optimized for cost-effectiveness without compromising employee well-being. This involves reviewing benefits, compensation, performance management, and development policies. By identifying areas where costs can be reduced, or the processes can be streamlined, organizations can achieve cost savings while still prioritizing the well-being of their employees.

Organizations can also improve their economic resilience during a recession by optimizing costs externally. Implementing cost-saving measures like negotiating vendor contracts or exploring alternative staffing models can help. This involves looking for opportunities to reduce external expenses without sacrificing the quality of products or services.

Promoting from within: Organizations can demonstrate their commitment to employee development and create a sense of upward mobility by promoting internal talent. During a recession, this can be a cost-effective strategy that boosts morale and motivation. Identify high-potential employees and provide them with growth opportunities. Encouraging internal mobility allows organizations to leverage existing talent and fill critical roles without external hiring. Facilitate cross-functional movement and provide resources for employees to explore new opportunities within the organization.

Offering skill development opportunities: Organizations can build a more skilled and adaptable workforce by providing opportunities for them to learn and grow. Find relevant training programs and encourage employees to take advantage of them.

Cultivating a positive workplace culture: Organizations can improve employee well-being and productivity by maintaining a positive work environment during challenging times. Foster open communication, provide emotional support, and promote teamwork to boost morale.

Investing in employee engagement and development can increase satisfaction and reduce the risk of losing key talent. Prioritizing training, recognition programs, and career development opportunities can foster loyalty and a positive workplace culture.

Providing support for employees with cognitive disabilities: Supporting employees with cognitive disabilities during a recession is important for several reasons. Individuals with cognitive disabilities may face additional challenges in the workplace, such as difficulties with communication, learning, and problem-solving.

These challenges can be exacerbated during a recession as companies may need to downsize or restructure, impacting job security and increasing stress levels. By supporting employees with cognitive disabilities, companies can ensure equal opportunities to succeed and contribute to the organization's success.

Provide reasonable accommodations and implement technical aids using software or equipment to enable communication with and by the employee. Encourage support from co-workers and supervisors, and enlist the services of an employment support agency if needed.

Best practices for HR leaders during a recession

To navigate a recession successfully, you should adopt these best practices:

Building a strong employer brand: Organizations can set themselves apart from competitors by building a strong employer brand. During a recession, organizations with a strong brand have an advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.

You can focus on your brand reputation by highlighting your commitment to employee well-being. This can be done through highlighting the organization's values, mission, and culture. You can also leverage employee or client success stories to demonstrate the positive culture within the company.

Offering competitive benefits packages: Ensure your benefits package remains competitive to reduce employee turnover. This includes comprehensive health care coverage, retirement plans, and other employee perks. Regularly review and benchmark benefits against industry standards to ensure they remain attractive to current and potential employees.

Employees may be more concerned about job security and financial stability during a recession. Organizations can alleviate some of these concerns by offering competitive benefits and demonstrating their commitment to employee well-being.

Create a culture of continuous learning and provide resources for employees to enhance their skills. This can include offering mentorship opportunities and career development plans.

Managing layoffs and diversity: Organizations can create a more resilient and innovative workforce by prioritizing diversity and inclusion. During a recession, organizations may need to make the difficult decision to reduce headcount. It is essential to ensure that the layoff process is fair and transparent.

Employees should be treated with respect and dignity throughout the process. Ensure that diversity goals are maintained during this process and implement strategies to maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce. This can include conducting a thorough analysis of the impact of layoffs on diversity and implementing measures to mitigate any adverse effects.

Exploring hiring strategies: Outsourcing and contract staffing can be viable options for organizations to manage costs and maintain essential operations. Evaluate the feasibility and impact of these strategies on your workforce. This includes considering the skills and expertise required for distinct roles, the potential impact on morale and engagement, and the long-term implications for the organization.

You can also consider alternative hiring strategies such as remote work arrangements, flexible schedules, and project-based hiring to adapt to changing business needs during a recession.

Employee well-being during a recession: Prioritize employee well-being through initiatives and programs. Offer resources and assistance programs to help employees navigate financial hardships, such as financial counseling, access to government support programs, and flexible payment options.

HR leaders need to maintain open communication and transparency with employees. Balance financial realities with the need to provide essential employee benefits. By supporting employees during challenging times, organizations can foster a sense of trust and loyalty, which can contribute to long-term employee engagement and retention.

Building trust

In times of economic uncertainty, Marsh McLennan Agency understands the importance of HR leaders successfully guiding their organizations through a recession. We are committed to being your trusted advisors and partners, helping you navigate these challenging times and emerge stronger. We can weather the storm together by implementing adjusted HR strategies, adopting best practices, and prioritizing employee well-being.

Our comprehensive employee benefits and retirement services are designed to empower you to confidently navigate recessions and help build a resilient future. Contact one of our HR specialists today to learn how you can adopt best practices during a recession.