What regular employees should do and not do during times of recession

Times of recession are actually great learning experiences. However, there are some who make mistakes that become irreparable if not given sufficient attention. Based on hardcore HR experience during the 2008 global meltdown, this article is an attempt at focusing something on what regular employees should do and not do. These are discussed in some detail.


Take the bull by its horns. Recession is a real bull. Very tough measures to merely stay alive on the business will be positively put forward by most Management's. Irrespective of your position in the organizational pecking order, it becomes essential and imperative for you to a) Play ball to every cost-cutting initiative b) Be non-emotional and totally businesslike c) Never criticize any action of Management d) Come up with original ideas to reduce cost e) Spread learning across units/ divisions and f) Sharpen your saw, as a routine.

Play ball to every cost-cutting initiative

A couple of days ago, regular employees including workmen, happily accepted a minor but significant initiative in cost-cutting cutting at one major plant of an auto-ancillary organization. The local trade union leaders talked to groups of workmen and decided that they will agree to forgo the " vada" that is served with breakfast each morning. The total savings may not even be Rs90,000 per month. Yet, the cumulative effects of such saving were appreciated by all. The finest initiative was to totally liquidate the inventory and ensure cash flow. The second major initiative was to start producing only to cater to the particular demands of customers. Every single employee is focussed on the major initiatives. That this is a zero debt company is a big plus. Yet, the Management has done what it has always done in any crisis: be pro-active to save every pie. Only local managerial talent is used to train all employees in classroom situations.

It is essential that you should swim with the tide and not against it. Good times will come back. Management's always like pro-active suggestions and you can easily see the difference on a later date.

Be businesslike at work and empathetic outside it

This is a common expectation. For instance, it is quite natural that contract and casual employees will face the music. You can' t do anything about it. However, your out-of-the-box thinking capabilities are essential only at such times. Three employees, one of whom had a good two acres of land was guided, in 2008, to grow spinach in more quantities, as the water position was not so good. Organic farming was already known to them. 100 regular employees formed an informal group and by turns, a firm buy-back arrangement was put in place. The three contract employees were happy, as they could give the fresh quality at reasonable prices by 630 AM. Similarly, every possible line of communication was kept open to guide the displaced employees to do something to survive. When the good times were back, all employees who were displaced were called back. The tough times are back in 2019. However, since employees already have firm routes in the surrounding villages if the main factory, the problem of unemployment was not so severe; the service sector helped them to survive.

Similarly, outside the official environment, you can do whatever is needed to make those displayed as comfortable as possible. It has to be noted that the home tuitions is one sort of occupation that does not have any recession at all. For instance, there is a lot of scope for teaching the basics of the Hindi language, even when the child is studying in the second standard. This is a great opportunity. Hence, one can easily enable housewives who know the language well, to take up this tuition. Mathematics teachers are also in demand. In times of recession, we need to really find out the ways and means of maximising the potential of family members. You can even suggest such solutions so that they understand what can be done in crisis situations.

Never criticize any action of the Management

This is a big no. This should never be done. There is always a temptation to be pro-labor and become famous among workmen. These are times when the Management's will not hesitate to even go for a layoff or even instigate workers to go on a strike. This will be disastrous for the workmen. The Management will have installed CCTV cameras at some locations and they will simply produce a record of the smallest deviation in the labor court to even declare a lockout. Once this is done, the Management will use the situation to their advantage and keep the labor on a tight leash.

You need to keep your cool, come what may. You just cannot afford to criticize the Management, even if you just a Junior Executive. This is the only alternative in tough times. Remember, any Management will look for "people like us" in a crisis situation. The present situation is likely to go from bad to worse and the worst forms of cost-cutting are imperative at work and at the office. There is absolutely no choice here.

Come up with original ideas to reduce cost

This is another aspect of what you should compulsorily do. There is no choice at all. For example, in a heavy chemical factory in Southern Tamil Nadu, where this employee was previously employed, the then Chief Executive put on his thinking cap. There was only one trade union in the company. The local trade union leaders were the only leaders. For example, the canteen inside the factory was always designed to cater to the needs of just fifty bachelor's, most of them engineers trainees who did not have any place to have food in the rural environment. Realizing the felt needs of the workmen to have hot food prepared by their wives for lunch, the Chief Executive, with due approval from the Management, came up with a superb idea. It was simple.

The Management would give one free vada, and also the banana leaf, free. The employees can also have an extended fifteen minutes to relax after food. The employees were so happy. In the evening, they had fresh snacks at highly subsidized rates. Since it was and still is a rural environment, the hot food from their wives serve hot, exactly at 12 15 pm each day, helped them to not only feel happy but also praise their wives so much. This is exactly what can happen if you think out of the box. Today, the situation is the same but the Management is also running cooperatives where the essential commodities are sold at subsidized prices. Similar out-of-the-box initiatives are called for in the factory.

Go for it. Identify every single item of expenditure and suggest that it be cut down. For example, even a simple gesture such as putting off the AC when it is not really required will enable the management to cut down on cost. The word will spread around and you will be really appreciated if there are several others who follow you. More often than not, innovations also start with the simplest of what the Japanese call as Kaizens. Eliminating search time, for example, by indexing crucial files in the computer and also noting down full details of major cost-cutting exercises on the shop floor will enable learning on a daily basis. Look around and innovate in all possible ways to reduce cost.

Spread learning across units/divisions

In one particular organization, a Chief Executive, who had read Raguram Rajah's warning of the global crisis when he was on on official trip, put on his thinking cap. He immediately packed off one of his key senior managers to do an advanced Six Sigma Couse at Japan. When this executive came back, he was mandated to train all managers and later all workmen. The savings run into several lakhs as the young executives were very much involved. Even when the global crisis happened, the organization did not stop this training. However, when the boom period was back again, the organization gained so much from Six Sigma. This Senior Manager subsequently became so famous that other organizations and a few B-schools are also enlisting his services today. All this has happened only because of the timely action of the CEO. The same CEO was sent for an advanced Management Program to Harvard Business School. He came back and made many more improvements.

Sharpen your saw, almost as a rule

This author has already talked about this in so many articles. However, in a recession when you have plenty of free time when factories are closed for days together, it is not appropriate that you go around visiting places. While some spirituality is okay, what needs to happen is that you should look around and read a lot. Okay, you are an MBA, from say, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. This does not mean you should not read the Harvard Business Review. You can go to the nearest B-school to read it. If it is costly to subscribe, join hands with three others and subscribe to it. The examples are many. You can also learn from self-driven entrepreneurs who would innovate to make money in tough times. For such learning, the sky is the limit.


No matter what you are, what you should do and not do in the tough times, ought to be clearly understood. You have no choice, either. You must count your stars and stay glued to micro and macro challenges.


Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao25 Aug 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

An excellent write up from from the author. We all know that a stitch in time saves nine. When we see a problem and if we can respond immediately, we will be able to stop the problem from getting escalated.
An industry might have been started by some person but the running of the unit depends completely on the people working there. So the management and unions are the two wheels of the organisations. When both the parties know this the company will run smoothly. When there is a dispute from external forces or when there is a threat to the existence of the company both of them must think that they are together. Once the industry is out of problems they can sort out the difference among them. This strategy will make the company overcome the recession.

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