HR directors upbeat about downturn despite redundancies and job freezes

Leading HR directors have insisted they are focusing on the future despite having to make redundancies and implement recruitment freezes.

Speaking at a roundtable event on ‘HR in the Downturn’, hosted by talent management provider Stepstone, HR practitioners said it was essential to maintain a balance between survival and strategic measures, to ensure that HR functions do not just become a “mopping up service” after redundancies.

The directors from National Express (which announced 750 job cuts last December) and Ernst & Young (which implemented a recruitment freeze in September), said the emphasis now needed to be on strong talent management for the future.

Julia Jameson, director of leadership and development at Ernst & Young, said: “Getting the balance right between the long- and the short-term view is the key to success and getting through it. You’ve got to take short-term measures otherwise you are just sticking your head in the sand and your business is going to fail. But the strategic view is really important.

“We need to ask the question what kind of leadership for the business are we going to need when we come out of this period? Because the answer is not what we had beforehand.

“Identifying our future leaders and developing them is essential, and this doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she added.

Stephanie Oerton, head of talent and development at National Express, said that HR functions could use the recession and redundancies to encourage talent management, helping to retain and develop a stronger workforce for the future.

She told Personnel Today: “[Redundancies] enable remaining people with the skills and the motivation to take on extra responsibilities, broadening their scope. With the right support and training this provides them with exciting opportunities to develop within the company.”

The directors also highlighted apprenticeship and graduate schemes as essential for helping companies to develop future talent and cutting such programmes would be “suicidal”.

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