HR directors warn job cuts should be last resort

Redundancies should be the last option for HR teams facing growing pressure to cut costs and reduce headcount, according to senior HR figures.

Last week, Personnel Today reported that councils nationwide were cuttingback office and management roles in response to the economicdownturn, resulting insome HR practitioners overseeing their own demise. Local government HR directors warned peers the function needed to innovate to survive the jobs cull.

At last week’s HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham, HR directors told Personnel Today they were ready to fight back against the gloomy predictions of mass job cuts.

Sandy Begbie, HR director at insurance giant Aegon UK, which employs 4,100 staff, said the function had the ability to save costs without redundancies. “We’re looking at things like benefits, working patterns and reduced hours. We’re preparing in case our business volume suddenly drops,” he said.

However, he conceded that his 140-strong HR function might reduce in size over the next year, but this was down to the introduction of a new IT system.

Other HR chiefs said it was unlikely they would cut HR staff during the recession. However, many said they were looking at reducing training spend by introducing more online learning.

Annette Capper, HR director at logistics provider TDG, said: “We’re ensuring e-learning is available to a broader population, not just managerial staff. We grow our talent through e-learning because that’s the future.”

The head of HR at Hanover Housing Group, Christine Armstrong, agreed. “Pay deals probably won’t be high, so we’re trying to continue with the learning and development that people value.”

Others insisted their HR strategies were robust despite the downturn, but certain areas would demand greater focus, such as staff retention and employee engagement.

Additional reporting by Guy Logan and Tara Craig

Five alternatives to axeing jobs

  • Cut pay or hours

  • Enforce annual leave

  • Encourage sabbaticals or part-time working

  • Reduce contractual bonus schemes

  • Training budget cuts

Is HR under threat?

“I don’t believe so, as HR can really add value. Sometimes it’s difficult for others to see what HR is doing, but I think it can come up with some great initiatives.”

Jennie Monon, head of HR, operations and IT banking, ING Group

“We’re not particularly affected. However, we’re still looking for good employee engagement and different forms of recruitment and retention.”

Stephanie Bryan, head of HR and people development, Landis & Gyr

“We’re beginning to adapt the HR strategy, but since we have a high casual labour, we have more flexibility, so it’s not as drastic as in other industries.”

Dawn Turner, regional director of HR, Hyatt Regency Birmingham

“There is no threat. The recession is tough, but there is still a need for really good HR people. As a function we’re already as lean as we can be.”

Rebecca Collinson, director of reward, KCOM Group

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