HR Hero Line

Financial Crisis Should Boost Work-Life Benefits

by Sarah McAdams

The global economic crisis is stressing out employees everywhere. Almost half are worried they’re going to lose their jobs, nearly a third are working more hours and taking less time off, 48 percent said that stress makes it hard for them to perform well on the job, and 25 percent are actively looking for new jobs or updating their resumes. Those were the findings of recent research conducted by Workplace Options, a work-life services provider that surveys a wide range of employees every month; its recent polls have revealed a steep spike in employee stress.

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Give workers more flexibility before firing them
The solution to employee anxiety, say experts, is to increase, not decrease, work-life benefits. “The economy may be adversely affecting your business to the point of cut-backs and layoffs, but it is also affecting your employees on a personal level,” says Tina Hamilton, president and CEO of HR services firm hireVision Group. The result in such times, she says, is that though they may not want to leave your company, employees feel forced to start looking for new jobs. More flexibility will give them a reason to stay.

“During an economic downturn, it is critical to consider employee retention as a primary focus when considering strategic planning,” Hamilton says. “Loss of critical employee intelligence can be devastating at a time when many companies are looking at staying afloat for the immediate future vs. long-term outlooks.”

Employee retention is, however, more than just treating them to a free lunch, Hamilton says. Instead, start by asking them what they need — what would help them — via a survey, focus group, or town hall meeting.

But, she warns, “do not conduct a survey or ask what they need if you do not intend to make a goodwill effort to act immediately on their requests.”

Free White Paper: Alternatives to a RIF

Tips from other pros
Accept business unusual. Business consultant Gayle Lantz, author of Take the Bull by the Horns, says, “Employees don’t appreciate being told to operate as though it’s ‘business as usual.’ Leaders should acknowledge what’s really happening and work with employees to find new or innovative solutions.”

Look for a win-win. Ask employees to contribute ideas, suggestions, and approaches that serve the needs of the employer and meet their own unique needs during a difficult time, suggests Lantz, who as president of WorkMatters helps organizations like NASA, Microsoft, and Compass Bank.

Offer a reduction in hours. Before just letting people go, offer them a reduced schedule, advises John B. Izzo, PhD, author of Values Shift: Recruiting, Retaining and Engaging the Multigenerational Workforce. “Surveys show that many employees worry about taking advantage of flexible work arrangements because they fear it makes them appear less ambitious and career motivated,” he says. “If a company is considering a layoff, first offer flexible and reduced hours to your existing workforce. Many people will be willing to take you up on this, which is better for morale than layoffs.” (HR Hero Line article: “Avoiding legal pitfalls during RIFs and when reducing workers’ hours“)

Provide financial consultation services to employees. The folks at Workplace Options found that 57 percent of the employees they polled said they would take advantage of such a service if it were offered.

Replace raises and bonuses with flexibility. “Since money may be less available for raises and bonus payments, flexibility can at least help send a signal that employees are valued,” Izzo says, pointing that he has done this at his firm, The Izzo Group. “We have an assistant in our company, for example, and we have offered her an opportunity to flex her hours and do work from home even though we decided it was not a good time for raises, and it was very well received.”

Bottom line
In times of uncertainty, you don’t want to lose your best people — or see their work suffer without trying to do something about it. And that “something” may be easier to arrange than you realize.

Free White Paper: Giving Thanks: How to Show Employees They’re #1 Without Breaking the Bank

Sarah McAdams has reported on HR for a variety of publications, including the Journal of Employee Communications Management, Corporate Legal Times, and The Ragan Report.

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