15 Apr 2020 20:15 IST

Why retrenchment should be the last option

Unless a business is hit very badly, it should consider less severe options, like pay-cuts

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the world badly and most businesses not been spared the ill effects. While, on the one hand, people the world over are agonising over infections, fatalities, recoveries and a shortage of personal protective equipment, on the other hand, there is this other set, mostly represented by businesses, employers, start-ups and SMEs, that is worried about the devastating impact this disease has caused on their operations.

The countries are announcing partial to full lockdowns or MCOs (movement control orders), the state and international borders have ceased all activity other than forced emergency evacuations. Flights have been grounded, and employers (with the exception of certain essential services) have been forced to mandate working from home for most of their staff. The stock markets have plummeted, and shopping malls remain closed, as are schools, colleges and universities. All of a sudden, the world around us seems to have come to a complete standstill.

The longer this Covid-19 saga continues, the higher will be the economic pressure, and the tougher it will get forbusinesses and employers to sustain themselves to stay commercially viable. Some large, highly-diversified conglomerates or fundamentally strong companies might be able to weather this storm somehow, without really having to retrench too many employees (though they may still have to enforce pay-cuts and other cost-cutting measures).

However, the situation for start-ups, SMEs, highly leveraged private companies, employers with high exposure to the American, European or Asian markets; especially in the technology, manufacturing, automotive, luxury goods, retail and supply-chain sectors, will bear the brunt and hence find it extremely difficult to sustain the cost pressures arising out of lower productivity, stalled transactions and loss of business, with no light visible at the end of this tunnel.

he fact is that the global economic meltdown will lead to severe job losses and pay-cuts across the globe. It isn’t easy for an employer to retrench loyal people. It is a very painful exercise indeed, with a lasting negative impact on the business as well as the brand. However, in certain exceptional circumstances it becomes inevitable to keep the “ship afloat” and retain employment and source of income intact for a larger segment of the workforce.

If you are a business leader, a start-up founder or an HR leader with a company that has been forced to take the path of retrenchment in these tough times, here are some ways you could possibly manage the otherwise very painful exercise of retrenchment slightly better.

    Be as transparent as possible

    No one likes to hear or disclose the bad news but it becomes worse when it is hidden until the last minute, announced as a last-minute shock or executed secretively. Though it hurts at first, most of the affected people would prefer to hear it openly and well in advance so that they may still have an opportunity to plan things for themselves as well as their family. So if there is trouble, let us talk about it and not hide it.

      Offer a reasonable time to prepare by giving advance notice

      Though no amount of notice can really be the just replacement for job loss, yet we are all in this together. So, the employer has to offer as much advance notice or pay as they reasonably can for the impacted employees, so that they do have some resources to help them sustain for some time. . Usually, a one-month notice is practised by most employers but the longer the better.

        Get unions on board

        If you’re an employer in an industry where unions play a strong role, it is highly recommended to involve them in any such retrenchment exercise. At times, they can also help these retrenched employees find other opportunities of income within their network while also helping to manage the emotions of employees, making the whole exercise slightly less complicated and painful.

        Explore and offer transition or outplacement options

        While some employers may be forced to retrench a part of their overall workforce, others may be in a position to absorb or hire a few more. Therefore, the least employers can do to help retrenched employees is to assist them in finding other opportunities by introducing them to employers who may still be looking to hire. There are also global talent platforms that give an option to list all retrenched staff and they match these listed employees with other employers on their platforms as well as those outside their platform, who might be hiring in the industry.

          If possible, consider a pay-cut instead of complete retrenchment

          Unless a business is hit too badly and the employer just cannot afford to stay afloat without the retrenchment exercise, they should consider slightly less severe options, like enforcing a pay-cut. After all, something is still better than nothing. . Let retrenchment be the last option.

            And, if you are a job-seeker who has already been affected and looking for a job; stay strong and try to turn challenges into opportunities by trying to upgrade your skills, continue your job search without loss of motivation, rebrand yourself to position yourself better and, above all, stay connected. Yes, the greatest help we can get in such times is from our network of friends, family and well-wishers. Stay around positive people, do not hesitate to ask for help and, most importantly, do not lose hope as “Once you choose Hope, anything is possible,,” as ‘Superman’ (Christopher Reeve) said.

            (The author is Co-founder, SCIKEY, a talent solutions company.)