Depending upon what you read at the moment, there could be an upwards movement in the job market and a return to sustained business growth in the near future. However, simultaneously, we are still confronted by daily headlines of cost-cutting, redundancies and restructuring and certainly our experience with calls to our advisory team in these areas suggests that the need to down-size has certainly not diminished. If anything, these types of calls appear to be more frequent.
Could it be that there is instead an overhaul taking place in the workplace in terms of jobs offered, the types of contracts being used, the way in which employees are rewarded and recognised and an alteration to the employer-employee psychological contract? In some industries overhauling the business can create expansion and true opportunities but this is often tempered by the type or longevity of the roles which are actually on offer.
There has been a marked shift towards the use of casual or seasonal employees and especially a rise in part-time working. Although some of these statistics may reflect changing attitudes to family rights such as an increase in women returning to work part-time after maternity leave, since the take up of additional paternity leave (what is additional paternity leave many will ask as many organisations have still to implement policies reflecting this) has been slim to none since introduced and we wait to see if the supposedly ‘ground breaking’ proposals to divide maternity leave and pay between parents will improve matters, are we in reality seeing the equality gap remaining and a challenged general workforce taking what is on offer rather than what they are truly capable of or which they may have considered before?
As an employer rather than an employee, does this put you in a better position than before? After all, you are freer perhaps to decide what you need, can utilise more flexible contracts, can position pay rates carefully, can perhaps offer less attractive perks with the job, can restructure regularly to re-position your services, and there are plenty experienced and qualified employees on the market for you to choose from. Certainly, from an employment perspective, careful use of legally compliant contracts (zero hours, short-term, fixed term, part-time) and reductions necessitated by re-structuring or funding reductions can be made in compliance with statutory (or contractual if in place) redundancy and consultation requirements.
Employers tempted to cut corners and take more risks in these situations should however consider that despite the pressures to ‘get things done quickly’ without proper consideration, acting in an illegal, unethical, discriminatory or unequal manner without appropriate advice will likely result in successful employment tribunal claims from employees, adverse press coverage, and in serious cases such as where health and safety has been breached, prosecutions.
So, assuming that you make any necessary changes within the framework of the law, how can you keep both your Board and your remaining employees engaged? Consider what you can still afford by way of financial and also non-financial forms of recognition or reward, especially if any expectations were set in better times, and if the objectives set have been met, communicate regularly as truthfully as you can and be seen to be open and fair in your actions. Only then can you attempt to minimise costs to keep the Board happy and foster both understanding and a ‘we’re all in it together’ approach with employees to work productively together towards better times.