Layoffs hot topic at HR conference

Layoffs were the issue of the day at the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals annual conference, held at the Marriott Beach hotel last Thursday.

CISHRP conference

Attendees at this years CISHRP conference blow bubbles in reference to the conferences theme: If the Bubble Bursts… Front row, from left, is CISHRP President Philip Jackson, the events emcee Mario Ebanks and Alden McLaughlin, minister of employment. Photo: Anna Wootton

More precisely, how to avoid layoffs was the issue that many speakers, both local and international, chose to focus on in their presentations.

Conference Committee Chairperson Samantha Bennett confided that originally the committee did not think that this year would be an appropriate year to hold the annual event, because of the economic recession.

‘Then we realised that this year was the best year to hold it – when it would be most relevant,’ she said. ‘So we dropped the price of tickets and cut costs in other areas and got together some great speakers.’

This year’s conference theme was ‘If the bubble bursts…how will you manage and motivate your talent?’

Opening up the morning’s conference was Alden McLaughlin, minister of education, training, employment, youth, sports and culture, who pointed out that, in his opinion, the bubble had already burst.

He explained that the current government had made a determined decision to avoid making any employees redundant.

‘It is a difficult decision but redundancy has such a demoralising effect on staff,’ he said.

This sentiment was echoed by speakers throughout the day, who all emphasised the negative effects of layoffs on a staff’s morale and productivity.

The first speaker of the morning was John Harvey, chief executive officer of Mike’s Group of Companies.

His presentation focused on performance management during good times and bad, and explained how focusing on improving the performance of employees is just as pertinent during times of economic hardship.

Explaining that the human resource is the ‘greatest untapped resource’, he stressed using employees’ full potential for maximum value while cutting costs in other areas.

‘Encourage employees to have career paths,’ he said.

As part of a comprehensive performance management plan, Mr. Harvey encouraged companies to conduct 360-degree feedback surveys to discover where weaknesses in management lay. He emphasised the importance of including everyone, including hourly employees, in a 360-degree survey. By doing so at his company, Mr. Harvey said, he was able to find out where managerial weaknesses lay much quicker.

Following Mr. Harvey’s presentation was the energetic and dynamic speaker Doug Soares, partner of the firm Expertise, an HR consulting firm based in Bermuda. It was Mr. Soares’ second time at the conference, after speaking last year about Bermuda’s term limit policy.

Mr. Soares focused on how to cut labour costs without cutting people, and drew on the similarities between Bermuda and Cayman – such as their main industries being tourism and finance – and how they have been affected by the recession in similar ways.

In addition to the global recession, however, he added that Cayman also is facing additional challenges at this time: the G20 summit ramifications, a general election, an influenza pandemic and constitutional reform.

He explained that one of the most damaging things a company could do in a time of economic hardship is to start laying off staff without trying other cost-saving tactics first. Redundancies should be a last-resort effort to save money.

He touted cutting unnecessary costs that are not related to personnel; minimising social spending costs; reducing hours and suggesting employees take unpaid leave; reducing pay and benefits; and then eventually, if all else has failed, look at laying people off.

Layoffs encourage an atmosphere and work environment of fear and anxiety, which leads to de-motivation, he added. In a particularly valid point, he asked why companies would choose to pay the expense of severance when they could save money by trying to cut costs elsewhere.

Baptist Health’s presentation on wellness programmes and how they can be particularly pertinent during this anxiety-ridden time was also relevant. Wellness programmes can help to keep stress levels down and thereby lower costs to the company, resulting in fewer sick days used and lower insurance premiums due to fewer claims.

HR consultant Walling Whittaker also talked about how companies should leverage the all-round compensation employees receive, rather than just their salary.

He said it was crucial for HR managers to properly delineate the total benefits package to their employees.

‘Many employees have no idea about the total compensation they receive, so it’s important to include all benefits,’ he said. ‘If you are paying it, why not tout it?’

One of the most shocking statistics of the day came from keynote speaker Dorothy Hill, who revealed that statistics had shown that 83 per cent of employees are waiting for the recession to be over so they can ‘bolt’ and find new work.