In tough economic times companies notoriously try to cut costs by resorting to their fallback plan: employee layoffs. Millions of them. This is evident from the high national unemployment rate. This is a problem shared both small, independent companies and larger rival companies.
In theory, if you’ve done your hiring right and everyone is essential, even one layoff is unacceptable. If you haven’t done your hiring right and you have “expendable” staff, that’s a separate issue unrelated to tough economic times. Assuming you’ve hired well, cutting one person from the team is losing one invaluable resource that helps make your entire company tick. In the short term, it hurts morale and lowers the productivity of a department. In the long run it means the entire company's time and money spent trying to make up for the loss -- redistributing tasks and overburdening departments, struggling to make up the slack, dealing with the paperwork, and eventually putting additional man hours toward rehiring and retraining. And of course, the toll layoffs take on the economy are tremendous.
If your company wants to survive, you have to use the resources you have in the best way that you can. And the most important resource that any company has is its people. Without their labor and commitment, your company would not be successful. So, the next time you’re faced with tough economic times and are considering employee layoffs, perhaps you should instead institute what I call the "lay-on" (as opposed to the layoff. Get it?). Essentially, every employee puts in one voluntary extra hour per day at work. One extra hour to be used in the most advantageous way possible: finishing up projects, having a meeting with a client or vendor, assisting a co-worker, getting hands dirty working in another department. Even cleaning a desk or organizing files to improve efficiency.
Do the math assuming you have 30 employees: 30 employees x 1 hour per day x 5 day workweek = 150 extra hours. Divide that number by 40 hours per standard workweek and you have 3.75. That's the workload of nearly 4 additional employees, all without hiring a single new person. Rather than cutting expenses (and revenue), you could keep all of your employees' benefits and increase productivity and revenue as well!
If explained properly, employees will understand that you aren't asking for anything big. Just a little extra time each week that is completely flexible. You can let everyone figure out what works best for them -- be it shorter lunches, working from home, coming in earlier or leaving later, or some combination of options. Not only are you preventing layoffs among your employees, you are also increasing our efficiency and output, building reserves, and staying profitable. Of course, what is probably the best measure of the success of the lay-on is its effect on the atmosphere of the company as a whole: people spend less time worrying about losing their jobs and more focused on doing their jobs.
When times get tough and you are worried about your company's survival, consider your options. In order to thrive in good times and bad, remember that you have always relied upon, and will always rely upon, the people who work for you. You can panic, lay off people, and help fuel the fire of a chaotic economy. Or you can ask for a little more -- and get a lot more in return.