Rightsizing Your Workforce in the Face of Economic Change
Businesses everywhere are still grappling with tremendous change, as pandemic aftershocks continue to roll through the global economy. Although most Covid-era restrictions are behind us, organizations large and small are still dealing with significant people-related issues. Workforce capacity planning is just one piece of this complex, multi-faceted puzzle. But if you’re an employer, rightsizing your workforce has likely become one of your top priorities during these turbulent times.
One of the most serious repercussions of the pandemic involves talent — or the lack thereof. Companies aren’t able to hire enough skilled workers to meet their operational needs. This inability to attract and retain qualified talent — coupled with inflation — is driving compensation higher. In fact, according to the March 2023 U.S. employment cost index, civilian wages continue to increase, up 5.0% over the past year. And depending on the industry, some workers are asking for even more.
This means employers are having to get creative when attracting and sourcing talent. For example, some are focused on rightsizing their workforce to maintain operational efficiency while qualified workers are in short supply. And many companies are downsizing and upsizing simultaneously, as they adjust to continuously changing industry challenges and trends.
Effective Workforce Rightsizing Isn’t Only About Efficiency
For numerous organizations, workforce rightsizing involves reliance on contingent workers. This can be a smart choice. Contractors and temporary workers often provide the flexibility needed to operate efficiently and effectively, even when market demand shifts or business priorities change. This strategy is also attractive because it helps protect internal employees and their core responsibilities.
Even so, a flexible workforce might not be enough to weather a negative business cycle. It may also be necessary to make the difficult decision to lay off existing employees. Obviously, the most challenging aspect of downsizing is deciding which employees to lay off.
Is it best to make these decisions based on individual performance? What role should seniority play? And how can you be sure your remaining team will have the skills, knowledge, experience and motivation to sustain your business through tough times and support future growth?
If layoffs are followed by a hiring freeze, there’s the additional question of how to retain remaining employees. What will you do if critical contributors decide to resign? The last thing you want to do during a business downturn is jeopardize a product launch, revenue goals, or customer experience.
It’s important to recognize that drastic workforce adjustments can trigger problems with stress, morale, and engagement. Naturally, staff members who aren’t laid off are likely to soon wonder, “Is more bad news on the way?” or “Am I next?”
Even in an era known for record levels of voluntary resignations, job loss is foremost on employees’ minds. In fact, it is the top concern among 85% of people, according to the Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer. Concerns like this can prompt even the most loyal team members to start hunting for a new job. And without proactive intervention from leaders, this kind of “flight” response can spread and upend your organization’s efforts to regain stability.
Rightsizing Your Workforce: 4 Key Strategies
When rightsizing your staff, finding the right balance isn’t easy. It’s even more difficult when you need to downsize one department while upsizing another.
You can certainly be upfront about your intentions — and you should be. Transparency and clear communication are essential when managing change. However, you can’t afford to lose sight of the fundamental challenge every organization must face. You must determine the best way to anticipate and respond to potential business fluctuations. Here are a few ideas that can help:
1. Include Contingent Workers in Your Plan
By definition, contingent workers serve as supplements to your core employee base. They generally work on a project-by-project basis. As such, adding contingent workers to your plan offers significant flexibility when rightsizing your team becomes necessary.
In fact, 63% of organizations told SAP Fieldglass that contingent workers enable greater organizational agility. What’s more, 62% believe contingent workers are essential for filling key IT and digital skills gaps. For example, when companies experience a sudden influx of work, they can call on this scalable talent pool for quick access to the right capabilities.
2. Be Strategic About Any Hiring Freeze
When initiating a hiring freeze, one of the biggest mistakes companies make is to halt all recruitment activities and contingencies, entirely. It’s important to continue hiring-related processes. This way, when the need for additional help arises, you can more easily pick up where you left off and maintain operational continuity.
Even if incremental roles are temporary, you’ll be better able to tap into the skills needed to support critical business objectives. In fact, 61% of companies told SAP Fieldglass that contingent workers help accelerate their speed to market. In other words, relying on flexible staffing can actually help you continue to scale during a hiring freeze.
3. Treat Skills Development as a Long-Term Investment
Don’t be shortsighted about talent recruitment or development. Focusing only on the skills you need now can leave you scrambling to fill critical roles down the line. In addition to the skills and competencies you need today, emphasize what will be essential for your business in the next few years.
Investing in professional development also gives you a chance to leverage learning and growth opportunities in your recruitment efforts. It can help your job openings stand out in today’s environment, where jobseekers value employers that emphasize learning and career advancement.
4. Leverage a Talent Marketplace
Essentially, a talent marketplace is a system that helps employers align talent with open roles. It can work one of two ways:
- Internally, you can use this kind of system to facilitate employee mobility, helping individuals pursue different roles based on their skillset. Or you can redefine and reorganize an employee’s existing role so it better aligns with your organization’s changing needs. This process can be especially helpful during a hiring freeze.
- Externally, a talent marketplace can help organizations open the door to freelance, temporary, or gig workers who are qualified for hard-to-fill roles. Think of it as creating a larger, more agile talent pool that lets you secure the right skills at the right time, while saving costs typically associated with recruiting and hiring internal employees.
Final Notes on Rightsizing Your Workforce
Pandemic aftershocks are still reverberating through the business world — and organizations will continue to be disrupted by unexpected external factors. As a result, smart employers are staying open to more agile workforce planning and management strategies.
Today’s successful employers are already rethinking the way they recruit, hire, manage, lead, compensate, and redeploy talent. Rightsizing your workforce is just one piece of this larger puzzle, but it can make a significant impact on your organization’s long-term success.