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Opinions of Thursday, 30 July 2020

Columnist: Kwaku Agbesi

Dealing with layoffs during coronavirus: How to mitigate impacts on employees

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In a matter of months, the Coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on the world economy more than anything this current generation has ever seen. Ghana, like other countries around the world, has not been spared the full impacts of the pandemic as the nation’s economy has been sent into a tailspin triggering staggering layoffs in the work environment.

As an HR practitioner, having to let people go is a painful thing to do at the best of times. And during a global crisis, when the world is full of uncertainty, the stakes are higher than ever. So how do HR practitioners manage layoffs during a global crisis like the one at hand?
Jobberman, an HR and training portal, proffers some valuable suggestions that aptly balances compassion and prudence in the management of staff layoffs occasioned by the pandemic.

The Ghana Perspective

In his virtual address to the nation during the 2020 May Day celebrations, Dr Yaw Baah, the Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), spoke of the damning impact the pandemic is having on the country. According to him, research being conducted by the Labour Research and Policy Institute of the TUC showed the “devastating effects of the COVID-19 health crisis on jobs and livelihoods in both the formal and informal segments of the economy.” Citing the example of a drink exporting company, Dr Baah said the company had lost tons of its raw materials due to border closures around the world.

“All casual and contract workers have been laid off. The company has also stopped all overtime work. As a result, workers’ incomes have reduced drastically. The company is struggling to pay workers, pay social security, pay taxes and repay bank loans” he said.
At the core of the problem is how businesses can stay solvent in these difficult times whilst ensuring employees’ wellbeing is also guaranteed.

Managing Layoffs

An indifferent and insensitive approach to layoffs can come back to haunt you even much later. How you treat your employees now will shape your (employer) brand post-coronavirus.
These tips from Jobberman will help you manage layoffs in such a way that minimizes the impact on your employees and ensures your brand reputation stays intact.

1. Offer Assistance — But Don’t Overpromise

To maintain empathy and compassion, Jobberman recommends employers must be readily available and willing to provide support and counsel to their employees. As an employer, you must recognize that your staff who have been laid off as a result of coronavirus may need time to process the news and might come back to reconnect or seek your advice. Be helpful.
Offer ideas about job opportunities at other organizations. Offer to serve as a reference. But, do not overcommit to things you cannot deliver.

2. Reach Out

First and foremost, being laid off can take a significant toll on people emotionally, psychologically, financially, and physically. It is important therefore that as an employer, you consider the wellbeing of your laid-off team as you do for your business. One way to effectively do this is to encourage conversation. Regularly keep the lines of communication open with your teams as it is crucial in helping their mental and physical wellbeing. Showing empathy and respect are the most obvious ways you can treat employees humanely.
Whatever the circumstances, one thing is certain: layoffs should be managed in a way that leaves people with their dignity, humanity, and as much support as one can get.

3. Adapt to Modern Technologies

As an HR practitioner, make sure layoffs are a last resort. You must reflect on whether layoffs are needed in the first place. Review all other options to see if any combination of temporal solutions such as lowering salaries, cutting benefits, reducing work hours, and offering unpaid leave could be financially viable as an alternative to layoffs. More importantly, adapt
to modern technologies. Instead of having to lay off your team members who are essentially your company’s biggest asset, consider adapting to modern technologies to stay in business.
Working remotely through a number of new technologies such as Google Hangout, Zoom or Slack can help you keep the majority of your team and avoid any major layoffs.

Work in a post-Coronavirus Era

According to Moody’s Analytics, more than half of all jobs in the United States economy are at high or medium risk due to coronavirus. The US case is a microcosm of the bigger problem the world faces. With such projections in mind, even if your organization has not laid-off workers yet, now is the time for HR to begin preparing for it just in case the situation gets
worse. Organizations that successfully meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic as well as manage their employer-employee relations well will be the ones surviving this global scourge.