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COVID-19: What Employers Should Consider Before Downsizing

The novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has brought in its wake very dire fiscal and financial, human right and social implications for nations, business organizations, employers and workers.

With business operations being shut down across the world, or in some cases hampered by restrictions in certain areas, stakeholders are compelled to fashion out innovative ways to stay afloat.

One of the considerations by employers and business owners is downsizing their workforce to meet the exigencies of the time.

Downsizing decisions are normally unpleasant, complex, and carry far-reaching consequences for both employers and workers as it affects the bottom line. Laying a worker off is a bread and butter issue. For the employer, it is a means to survival, which is business continuity. The worker, it may mean many weeks, months or years without a reliable or regular source of income.

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sad ending

To that effect, here is the need to strike a fair balance which will leave both parties not dissatisfied at the end of the day.

So what factors can the employer consider in downsizing its under-employed workforce in this uncertain and turbulent COVID-19 era?

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professional advice

A friend and colleague practitioner called me yesterday to seek my free advice on how to go about her company’s intended layoffs in response to the negative impact of the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

She revealed that the two criteria her organization (through her department) wants to use to downsize will be Attitude and Hard Work. She explained them to mean only workers who have demonstrated the right attitude to work, and those who are proven hard workers would not be affected by the plan.

According to her, she had a funny feeling the two criteria may not be enough. However, she couldn’t tell what more should be considered.

So I offered her my genuine professional advice. I told her to maintain her two criteria and add my two; Results and Respect for Ethics and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

I broke my points down with the following explanations.

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Attitude

With the right attitude, a worker will embrace change, champion/own change and support change. A worker will accept tasks and put in the best to achieve results—provided the required skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA) are available, with the right attitude. With the right attitude, a worker will stay the course from the formation stage of work teams through the storming, norming and performing stages. With the right attitude, employees will put in their best even when resources are limited (efficiency). Attitude could be everything a worker needs to excel.

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Hard Work

Have you met a student who studied a lot but ended up being one of the worst performers in class tests and examinations? That is the issue with hard work if there is a skill gap.

Many years ago, I complained about almost every task my granny would assign me. But on each occasion, I delivered flawlessly. If it was about going to buy tomatoes from the next house, I would do that and come back with the right change and product intact. I also did it rapidly beyond expectation. On the other hand, I had sisters who would gladly accept to undertake a task but do it shoddily. The difference between us was that I had a bad attitude of not wanting to undertake tasks assigned me, but then I performed to expectation each time I accepted to undertake them, while my sisters performed every task with glee and yet below expectation. Imagine a worker who has the right attitude and works hard too. The outcome (RESULT) will be excellent.

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Result

Result is everything if processes are not circumvented and ethics sidestepped. Many sales executives in their quest to achieve high and unrealistic sales targets flout the ethics of their profession. Some sleep with wealthy customers in order to meet their targets. If someone has over the years proven that they can achieve their targets without having to use shortcuts which are at variance with the organization’s SOPs and the ethics of the profession, such a person should be highly rated and kept at all cost. They will save the organization a substantial amount of money by not dragging it into legal and other risks.

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Ethics and SOPs

Ethics and SOPs are fundamental to every organizational task, duty and responsibility (TDR). These are important because they guide the worker on how best to go about their TDRs without incurring costly risks. Although many hardworking workers achieve results without adhering to ethics and SOPs, it is important that management insists on things being done according to its own set standards as well as regulatory requirements in order to avoid financial risks (in legal battles, loss of customer base, etc.), compensations (example, Workmen’s Compensation in the event of occupational accidents) and reputational damage. Any of the above risks can collapse an organization.

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Risks

In summary, an organization needs to work with workers who can meet all the foregoing criteria plus many more not mentioned. I concluded by telling my friend that the wider the criteria net, the easier it would be to select the best out of the lot and lay the rest off. The task of asking colleagues to go home due to lack of work or the quest to keep the business on its feet is not for the faint-hearted. Therefore, decisions must be made based on honesty, transparency and verifiable facts.Only then can the employer and the worker accept the decision in good faith.

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By: Stephen Kwame Agbai

The writer is a Human Resource Management (HRM) practitioner with considerable experience in the FMCG environment. He is a Full Member of theInstitute of Human Resource Management Practitioners (IHRMP), Ghana.

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