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3 steps to positive HR with a recession looming

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UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

Demand for HR increases with a recession looming

In this spring and summer of 2008, the northern hemisphere has been in a mild panic: fuel and food is increasingly expensive, banks and financial institutions are struggling to meet their commitments, and recession seems in the offing.  That feels depressing, doesn’t it?

I’ve just done a quick search on Google Trends of what we, the citizens, are saying.  Pop a few terms in yourself.  What patterns do you see?

  • Talk of recession rose sharply in January 2008 and has leveled off.
  • There has been a lot of talk about lay offs but less about job losses.  Semantics possibly, but also talk about what management does to us rather than what we experience?

It makes sense that people are more interested in HR when job losses are in the offing.  This pattern seems to be more pronounced in India and it is not possible to tell whether India is creating the global trend by force of numbers, or creating the trend by the direction of its attention, or simply the place with the most pronounced pattern.

The role of HR during a recession

Though it is an important concern, I am not particularly interested in whether there is a recession or not.  What concerns me is that we cannot create a good future until we can imagine it.

And I am concerned about the role we in HR play in helping people imagine a positive future.  People come to us when they are in trouble and feeling negative.  People come to us when they cannot see a way forward.  The graphs on recession, leadership, HR, hope and strategy show that people are not even looking for hope, strategy and leadership when they are looking for us!

Our key task

The challenge, for us, is that emotion is highly contagious.  Natural empathy will allow us to be infected by our clients’ gloom.

But they don’t want us to share their gloomy predictions.  They want positive action from us.  They want us to advise them and to act effectively on their behalf.  This is what concerns them.

  • What are their options and what can the firm do to help them?
  • What could we do with our skill base that we haven’t thought of?

Practical steps to positive HR in gloomy times

So if we are likely to reflect and perpetuate the gloominess of our clients, how can halt this process and restore a positive, forward looking, strategic atmosphere?

Here are three practical suggestions.

  • Make emotional R&R mandatory for the HR team.

Budget part of the day, part of the week, and part of the month for them to recover from toxic emotions and to restore their sense of what is “good and true, better and possible”.  Allow frequent “walks in the woods”.

  • Increase your budget for strategic thinking (not tactical response) and engage the organization in thinking through positive futures for all its staff.

After all, a firm that is healthy and thriving should be able to imagine positive futures for all the skill sets used in their industry.

  • Increase your budget for calming down line managers.

Stress causes defensiveness.  We try to control what we have and imagination flies out the window.  Stressed managers will quickly create a downward spiral.

And because supporting stressed people is extremely hard work, look after yourself.

Why I am positive

The positive news is that people are generally active and focused rather than passive and reactive.  People are less interested in abstract concepts like “recession” and much more interested in “what they are going to do”.

For young people, recession is not a bad memory.   They weren’t here during the last one.  A minor economic downturn is simply an adventure: something to be explored, something to be understood, something to be conquered and something to be enjoyed in the company of fellow travelers.

My call to action

My call to action:  Add an explicit positive agenda to your HR now.

  • Give your staff resources to recover from negativity.
  • Up the time spent on strategic HR and don’t stop until you have a positive vision for everyone in the company.
  • Work with senior managers.  When they are glum, they make everyone else glum, who then make them even more moody!

And make sure you have your quote of “walks in the woods”, positive mentors, simple pleasures and good home life.

Are you looking for a mentor or are you available to mentor an HR Manager trying to implement positive HR?

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Published in Business & Communities


  1. - -

    No tag for ‘business’? I expect all thew CEOs are looking for stuff like this for advice… 😉

  2. Jo Jo

    Thanks, will do.

  3. Really good piece of advice and I agree that the CEO agenda needs to look at such materials before getting it all wrong again!

  4. Jo Jo

    Thanks Scott. I’m working hard on turning the best of positive psychology into practical business advice that will show results.

  5. Jo, I love the blog and post. You have a new Raving Fan!
    ~Totally Consumed

  6. Jo Jo

    Yes, I was glad to see the rumours that Her Majesty has refused to award New Year Honours to some business people. Glad there is a moral compass somewhere.

    Equally, I always find it depressing that well educated professionals ‘wait around’ for someone else to do something.

    If we learn nothing else from this mess, it should be that we must stop abdicating. Professionals must hire managers to do work for them, not to control them. We need to assert structures to check the consequences of managers’ work in advance and the results will then be down to us.

    We may not do a better job, of course.

  7. […] For some of us, the journey ahead may not be quite so obviously into the unknownn.  We may be in a viable business that we own, or that employs us.  For you, I am happy to say, the most popular post on this blog on the last day of 2008,  is one I wrote when the recession seemed likely: a positive approach to HR in the recession. […]

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