How to stay up in a down economy

April 17, 2013

January 2010 | dlpmagazine.com Competitive Edge: Employee Management Management is difficult enough without  having to manage in a down economy. We are concerned about our businesses, the welfare of our employees, as well as our own welfare as we wait for things to turn around. The experts tell us the upturn is coming, but I doubt that you, like me, have seen many positive economic signs.

January 2010 | dlpmagazine.com
Competitive Edge: Employee Management

Management is difficult enough without  having to manage in a down economy. We are concerned about our businesses, the welfare of our employees, as well as our own welfare as we wait for things to turn around. The experts tell us the upturn is coming, but I doubt that you, like me, have seen many positive economic signs.

I was told recently that economic trends hit the dental industry about six months after they hit other industries, so it looks like we may have a ways to go. Think about the points below as you continue to manage through our current economic downturn.

Managing layoffs

As hard as we may try to hold on to every employee, sometimes that is not a financially responsible reality. A business slowdown may provide the ideal opportunity to re-evaluate your staff and let go of an employee or two who have questionable work ethics and are causing employee morale problems.

Bad morale is often caused by incompetence allowed to exist in the organization. If left unattended, employees who are meeting or exceeding standards perceive a lack of fairness or of unequal treatment.

In this economy, there can be no “sacred cows”-everyone needs to work hard to keep the business financially stable. Getting rid of employees who are not pulling their weight will help improve not only the morale of the remaining employees but the products and services you offer.

Employees with poor attitudes also should be considered as the second tier of expendable personnel. Occasionally, I find we at National Dentex have great technicians, but some possess poor attitudes. It may be the employee who never volunteers for overtime, starts rumors, is always five minutes late in the morning or doesn’t get along with others. Don’t kid yourself, we all have one!

Communicate the truth

Be as candid as possible with everyone in your business. Let employees know how the business is performing against its goals and targets. One of our managers told me, “Trust is everything, and a great way to lose that is to try to hide something.” If sales are down and job cuts need to be made, communicate this with the employees. When employee cuts come, at least they won’t be surprised. One of our locations even asked if any employees would volunteer to be laid off, and amazingly, received a few. Be truthful to those left behind about what their new reality looks like, whether that means a reorganization, a new manager, longer hours, or different work.

Respect and dignity

The newly laid-off personnel have just received a life-changing announcement. It will take time for that message to sink in. Allow these employees the time to say goodbye to friends, collect their personal belongings, and leave the building, but under the watchful eye of management.

Some companies prefer to escort employees who have been let go directly to their cars and arrange a time to later return and clean out personal belongings. Layoffs conducted last thing on a Friday afternoon or just before a holiday do not send a good message to remaining staff. Encourage former employees to call you with questions and to keep in touch. When business gets better, they may be candidates for rehire.

Manage the change

A job loss is just that, it is a loss that triggers all the emotions any loss triggers. If employees want to talk, let them talk; if former employees want to visit, let them visit, but in a managed way.

One of our laboratories allowed a former employee to frequently come to visit, entering the lab through the back employee entrance. She would then make her way through the lab, talking to everyone one at a time. Obviously this behavior was disruptive to production. The compromise reached was the former employee could visit, but only at break or lunch time and needed to enter the lab through the front visitor entrance and be escorted back to the break room to minimize the disruption.

Celebrate, but scale back

It’s important to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Continue to celebrate what you have always celebrated-be it perfect attendance, birthdays, or holidays-but do this in a manner reflecting the challenging economic times. One laboratory relayed its year-end luncheon will be a BBQ instead of turkey and all the trimmings. It’s still a celebration, but one that does not conflict with the cutbacks taking place.

It’s tough out there, and glimmers of hope are getting brighter. Once we get through this tough economy, we will be better for it in many ways.