· 2 min read · Features

Save your way out of the recession


Bosses and employees alike should be tightening their belts - it could help save some jobs.

Have you noticed during all the recent redundancy announcements that they almost always involve a nice round figure - a thousand here, 10,000 there? Rarely do you see companies saying that they are cutting 332 jobs or some other precise figure. In the same way finance directors will pass on 5% or 10% budget cuts. It rarely involves part of a percentage point.

Such is the business of finance. It likes to deal in round numbers. But people are not round numbers, neither are they commodities, and human resources professionals should reflect this in their own deliberations.

This is not a question of ethics; it is good business to question proposals for across-the-board staff cuts during this recession. Some may be inevitable but there may be ways of limiting numbers. Come the upturn there is unlikely to be a pool of candidates eager to fill the vacancies. The central Europeans didn't hang around when the UK economy began to falter just as the Polish economy began to improve. We can't expect to find ready recruits in construction from our European neighbours when the building trade recovers.

During the good times the cleverest companies built up a proportion of temporary and contract workers that can act as a buffer in a downturn. At BT, for example, it is the temporary staff that have born the brunt of 10,000 job cuts announced in November.

BT has also sought to save overheads by encouraging home-working. And there are significant economies to be made by changing your management practice to measuring output of staff rather than time spent in an office. This is easier said than done - it requires hands-on job-by-job management but it is well worth the effort for those who have the management skills to pull it off.

Not all staff can work so flexibly - but many can. According to Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit organisation set up by the IT Forum Foundation, the average cost of running a desk in a UK office today is £7,000 a year. In central London it is nearer £10,000 because of higher overheads.

"There are big savings to be made if offices introduce hot-desking arrangements," says Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise. "Employees benefit from home arrangements too by saving on commuting time and travel-to-work costs. These savings make a difference in a recession."

When the going gets tough it is incumbent on every employee - management and staff alike - to tighten their belts where they can. It was disappointing to note, therefore, that according to a recent survey of some 2,000 people, carried out for expense management provider GlobalExpense, many employees say they will begin to bump up their expenses if they are suffering financially. This is unacceptable behaviour at the best of times, but when colleagues' jobs are on the line, it's inexcusable.

Perhaps it is because I work for myself these days, but I like to see employees with a sense of economy in their work. Sadly it is all too rare. I have been taking an interest in BlackBerry hand-held devices recently. The company loaned me one for a month. During that time I asked a few people who used them if they could give me an idea of the running costs. Not one of them could. "I was given it to use. No one mentioned the cost," was a typical reply.

I'm giving my handset back. Costs aside, I just think that all this handset twiddling on trains is a little bit dismal.Other technologies such as Skype and some of the teleconferencing systems available today are a different proposition. These can save extensively on travel budgets.

Whatever the chancellor of the Exchequer may say about spending our way out of recession, I still think companies must look at saving their way out of it. It is not only the right thing to do; it can help save jobs and it is those jobs that will make the difference when confidence returns.

Richard Donkin, author of 'Blood, Sweat and Tears' and 'The Evolution of Work' richard.donkin@haymarket.com