April 14, 2020

A HR Dilemma: Keeping your people during a downturn

With the impact of COVID-19 now a stark reality in Australia, tough economic times have hit many businesses already, with more hardship expected in the coming months. The grim reality for a lot of businesses is financial pain and potentially shedding staff despite the best intentions of the JobKeeper scheme. So what strategies can you try before you make that tough call to cut staff?

HR Option 1: Let staff take leave

Assuming cashflow isn’t your main concern (and let’s face it for most it is) if people have accrued leave, now’s the time to see if they’re willing to take it. Ask people with long-service leave or annual leave accruals to consider taking it now for the greater good of the company. After all, this is a liability you were going to have to pay anyway, so it’s better you pay it out now if it means people can keep their jobs during this crisis. And to make this process easier most awards have recently been updated to allow people to take annual leave and LSL in more flexible ways – you just need to give them a week’s notice.

HR Option 2: Move to a reduced-hours week

During the GFC, I saw plenty of companies shift to a three or four-day week with a positive effect. Employees were prepared to take a 20-40 per cent pay cut if it meant they got an extra couple of days off each week, especially if it meant avoiding redundancies. They were also more willing to consider a shorter working week if they saw their managers making this shift as well. The temporary JobKeeper legislation actually allows employers to make these changes systematically and fairly when underpinned by the wage subsidy benefits.

HR Option 3: Work shorter days

A variation of the above theme is to work shorter days. Employees working five or six hours a day instead of seven-and-a-half for example, especially in stand-alone roles where the business needs someone there every day, but not all day. During times like this, there may be employees who would appreciate the capacity to finish earlier, particularly if their partner is working and children are at home. Remember though, if you’re asking your team to go down this path you must be prepared to do it yourself.

HR Option 4: Jobshare

Often you’ll have more than one person performing the same role. For instance, you might have three salespeople where, due to a downturn, you may only need two. Rather than making one of these roles redundant you might consider job-sharing. Plenty of businesses I saw witnessed during the GFC worked out job-sharing arrangements where two people would work, say, 2.5 days a week as an alternative option, giving the business coverage and saving two jobs.

HR Option 5: Tap into the flexibility of casuals

In the past few months many businesses have needed to stand down their casuals and for good reason, however the JobKeeper scheme provides the opportunity to re-engage with many of your long-term casuals. Taking a strategic approach to your workforce planning at this time and re-mobilising your casuals could result in a huge saving especially if you combine your planning with the options outlined above.

It’s all about being prepared

The most important thing to remember when you take any of these actions is to keep everything legal and above board. After all, when you change someone’s role outside of the JobKeeper legislation you may possibly trigger a redundancy. There are also leave accrual rules and notice period complexities to consider, so take care.

Where I’ve seen these approaches work best is in dynamic businesses with collaborative cultures and strong leadership, where there’s a strong sense of collegiality and where people are prepared to get on board to save each other’s jobs as well as their own. There also needs to be a strong element of trust in the company’s leadership and it certainly helps if there’s a timeframe around any arrangements so that people have some level of certainty, even if its tough financially. At this stage JobKeeper will run until 27 September but if you’re not eligible for the subsidies then try and create some level of certainty for your people, even if it is just a commitment to review at a point in time.

If you have any questions regarding staff management during the current COVID-19 crisis, the JobKeeper scheme or you’d like some help with your strategic workforce planning at this time, then feel free to reach out to the Catalina Consultants team today.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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