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Human Resources Veteran Offers Alternatives to Layoffs

Doug Sjoberg (pronounced Show-berg) is a consultant and lead trainer at the Employers Group office in San Diego. The nonprofit provides human resources consulting and training to its 2,000 members statewide and 400 countywide.

He’s worked in the human resources industry for more than 40 years, and has held staff and management positions in both the public and private sectors, including stints with NCR, Square D, Loral Space & Communications, TaylorMade Golf and Northern Telecom.

In addition, he has 11 years of experience in the Navy, specializing in communications management, human resources management and leadership development.

The Business Journal caught up with Sjoberg last week to find out how firms are dealing with the recession and what they can do when cutting staff is the only solution.

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How are most of the Employers Group members dealing with this recession? You get the impression that things are so bad, nearly every business is considering cutting employees.

It’s still a minority of the companies that are laying off people, maybe 20 percent as of the end of last year. Not all companies are in dire straits and some are OK. I’d say about 80 percent of the members are considering some alternatives to immediate layoffs, such as pay freezes and hiring freezes.

That still sounds fairly extensive, and yet the county unemployment rate is still below 7 percent.

The layoffs could range from three people to 3,000, but because most of our members are small businesses, the layoffs didn’t affect a huge amount of employees. We do know that because the unemployment claims have been so voluminous recently that people who were laid off have had some difficulty even getting their claims filed.


What are some companies doing instead of cutting jobs?

I just finished helping one North County business with two things, preparing for a layoff and helping those who were laid off with support in a career transition program that included a job search workshop.

In the process of doing this with their senior management, they considered a variety of options that hadn’t been considered before such as the management taking salary cuts, part-time employment, using temporary agencies, reducing some of the benefits such as 401(k) matching funds, and paying all of the health insurance premiums. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, but hanging onto your job is the bottom line. There are also opportunities for shared employment when two people can share a single job.


If there’s no other way around a layoff, what advice do you have for businesses?

The main advice is to prepare thoroughly. Specifically, companies should analyze their decision to do a layoff. Challenge that decision. Is it the right thing to do? Don’t make this decision hastily.

If you decide to go ahead with it, then have a systematic method of determining who will be laid off in order to protect yourself from potential discrimination accusations.

Then prepare a communication plan. When will you tell people, who will be conveying the information, and what exactly are you going to say? Make sure all the management is on the same page as far as what you’re telling people are the reasons for the layoff.

Lastly, have a communication plan for the survivors, what you will tell them is happening to the organization, and whether this will be the last shoe to drop. The key is to take care of the survivors as much as you can, and have a plan for addressing them just as you would for those who’ve been laid off.

, Mike Allen

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