A recession is a prolonged and pervasive reduction in economic activity. Generally speaking, multiple successive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product—a monetary calculation of the market value of goods and services generated and sold during a set time period within a given country—constitute a recession.
A recession can last for several months or years. Furthermore, recovering from this state to the nation’s previous economic peak can take years, even after a recession ends. Because a recession typically results in diminished economic output, lowered consumer demand and a drop in employment, such a downturn can present various challenges for organizations across industry lines—especially small businesses.
Although a recession can’t be prevented, the strategies that HR teams implement can greatly impact whether their organizations withstand such a downturn. Specifically, HR teams can ensure their organizations are sufficiently prepared for a recession by taking steps to limit related ramifications and maintain financial stability. This article outlines how a recession impacts small businesses and explores what HR teams can do to adequately prepare their organizations for an economic downturn. We have 6 recession-proofing strategies to share with you.
How a Recession Impacts Small Businesses
Amid a recession, organizations of all sizes and sectors usually experience decreased sales and profits stemming from changing consumer behaviors. An economic downturn may also limit organizations’ credit capabilities and reduce their overall cash flow as customers take more time to pay for products and services.
While these behaviors can threaten the financial stability of any organization, large businesses are often better positioned to weather a recession because of their substantial revenues, excess reserves and privileged access to a wider range of credit markets. Small businesses, on the other hand, may be particularly vulnerable during an economic downturn, as they generally lack the additional capital necessary to offset extended periods of loss. As a result, when a recession occurs, small businesses are more likely to have to make difficult financial decisions to avoid issues such as insolvency or bankruptcy.
Financial media website Investopedia reported that nearly 1.8 million small businesses closed their doors amid the last major U.S. economic downturn, known as the Great Recession, which took place between 2007 and 2009. Looking ahead, a recent survey conducted by investment banking company Goldman Sachs found that the vast majority (93%) of small businesses fear the nation will enter another recession in the coming months. With this in mind, now is the time for HR teams to help prepare their organizations for an economic downturn.
Tips to Prepare for a Recession
To promote financial stability among their organizations during an economic downturn, HR teams should consider the following recession-proofing strategies:
- Revisit compensation and benefits strategies. Many employers have responded to recent labor challenges by increasing workers’ salaries, providing substantial bonuses and expanding employee benefits and perks. However, with the possibility of a recession on the horizon, HR teams may need to rethink how their organizations will address attraction and retention struggles. This may involve curtailing salary increases and reducing employee benefits. After all, recession-proof organizations tend to develop their budgets with an eye toward the future, thus requiring HR teams to revisit compensation and benefits strategies.
- Automate internal processes. The more efficient organizations are, the more resilient they will likely be during a recession. In particular, recession-proof organizations tend to stay one step ahead by optimizing their resources and automating where possible. As such, HR teams can improve organizational productivity by automating processes and implementing new technologies. This may entail automating recruiting, onboarding and payroll operations to bolster efficiency.
- Try to minimize layoffs. When organizations’ financial capabilities become uncertain, their immediate plans may be to reduce costs through layoffs. However, layoffs should only be considered a last resort, seeing as they can create additional risks (e.g., legal liabilities, lower morale and employee distrust) and negatively impact business operations by decreasing productivity and proficiency. Instead, HR teams may be able to minimize the need for layoffs within their organizations by implementing voluntary reduction-in-force programs or choosing to slow hiring or pause it entirely.
- Stay transparent. The possibility of a recession can bring uncertainty. Employees will likely be concerned about their futures, the long-term viability of their respective organizations and how their work processes may change. With this in mind, HR teams need to find ways to keep employees informed without fostering their worries. Creating transparent workplace cultures can help organizations limit recession-related ramifications.
- Prioritize employee engagement. Employee engagement can be vital leading up to and during a recession. During periods of economic uncertainty, employees are likely to feel stressed. If organizations are forced to lay off employees, the remaining employees could be asked to shoulder additional responsibilities and greater workloads. As a result, these employees may feel overworked and worried about their futures. According to industry experts, highly engaged employees can help limit recession-related labor challenges among organizations, as they are more likely to accept negative work changes and remain loyal. HR teams can increase employee engagement within their organizations by meeting with employees, listening to them and addressing their concerns. By increasing employee engagement during difficult times, HR teams can help maintain staff morale and productivity.
- Manage health care costs. As their health care budgets shrink during a recession, searching for cost-effective solutions can allow organizations to maintain affordable benefits for employees. Implementing effective strategies to manage health care expenses (e.g., reevaluating plan designs and offerings, directing staff to cost-effective services and improving employee health care literacy) can help HR teams keep their organizations’ reduced benefits budgets intact without sacrificing employees’ needs.
A recession can have serious impacts on small businesses. Fortunately, by properly preparing for an economic downturn, HR teams can help their organizations be better positioned to minimize financial hardships. It is important to have recession-proofing strategies in place.
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