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Employee management put to the test in a tough economy

Teryl Schroenn

In difficult economic conditions, a company's ability to deal effectively with issues such as staff retrenchment, down-sizing and redundancy could mean the difference between survival and failure. There are HR and recruitment experts who believe South African businesses now operate in an economy dominated by strike action. This affects the market and will have consequences in terms of staff turnover and retention. Is there anything that can be done to overcome this situation?

We are in the position in SA where a number of businesses are closing their doors and ongoing strike action has a ripple effect on other provider businesses. Many companies are down-sizing, or transferring parts of their businesses overseas - where there is more labour force stability.

Volatility in the market is exacerbated by unrealistic employee expectations

South African employees have become accustomed to receiving annual increases in their pay so if a business is in a position where it can't pay increases, staff may start looking for alternative employment. The situation is made more difficult when a family is reduced to one income provider.

Irrespective of how a person becomes unemployed, losing a job is arguably one of the most difficult and stressful situations for someone to experience. It is important for all parties to be aware of their roles and responsibilities to cultivate an environment that is focused on employee retention as far as possible.

From an employee perspective, it's essential to keep focused on tasks and responsibilities. They can't allow the burden of worry to impact on their ability to do the job. At the same time, there is a great deal the employer can do to ease concern in terms of employee management.

Communication is key

According to Cathie Webb, chief operations officer at Accsys, it's vital that staff are kept in the loop about decisions regarding the business and their futures.

"Let them know that they are valued and extend the offer for them to be part of the solution and contribute towards a proactive plan to keep operations going through tough times. Invest in training and skills development projects to help build people up," said Webb.

The reality of the market today is that some people will lose their jobs and it's in everyone's best interest that this process is handled professionally and with as much consideration as possible.

Webb believes this is where companies can - and should - do a lot more.

"Few businesses are aware that the department of labour offers services - including counselling - for people and companies facing these difficult circumstances. Business should be up front with people and not try to couch things so that it becomes confusing. Keep the message simple and be fair to people. Give them references that will assist in securing employment elsewhere. Although there is widespread consensus that no-one is indispensable to a business, the truth is that people are generally missed when they leave a business or company," said Webb.

When people leave, they take with them - what she terms - 'institutional memory' which can never be replaced. "While we may believe that documenting everything helps to ensure that people always know how to do things, it is not possible to document everything, or to read and absorb everything that the previous incumbent knew. You may do the job better, but it will be different," added Webb.

Accountability, responsibility and communication make a significant difference in organisations' employee management practices with regard to easing the complexity and difficulty often associated with tough business processes and procedures, especially in the current SA economic climate.

Teryl Schroenn is the CEO of Accsys (Pty) Ltd. Her entire career has been in the IT industry, starting as a programmer, moving into business analysis and then into sales and marketing management. General management positions followed, including board positions. She is actively involved in industry bodies, including the ITA where she was elected president, a position she held for two years.