The HR Side of Preparing for a Recession

Employment trends expert Rob Wilson weighs in on how employers can prepare for a recession


While many people were encouraged by the positive jobs report at the beginning of the month, other experts say that we should brace ourselves for the possible reality of another recession.

“The fact that we added so many jobs in June is wonderful news, but it can also be very misleading,” says Rob Wilson of Employco USA, an employment solutions firm with locations across the country. “I think part of the reason why we gained so many jobs at the start of the summer is that many college-aged kids and young people took summer work, but when fall hits, I think we may have disappointing numbers again.”

Wilson says that the HR department will be the first place where the pain of a recession will be felt, but it can also be the first place where we safeguard against the worst of an economic downturn.

“It’s easy to feel powerless in a recession, especially for people who work in staffing and human resources,” says Wilson, “Having to let go of employees or worry about making payroll can be incredibly draining but the good news is that there is a lot we can do on the HR side to help prepare for a recession.”

Below, Wilson shares his top tips for how HR departments across the country can weather a recession:

Streamline work processes. “It might be tempting to cut costs, such as by avoiding investing in any new technology or software – but right now is the perfect time to look for I.T. solutions. Although it might cost more at the outset, it’s going to save you a lot of money in the future if you can simplify workplace tasks and absorb certain positions that might no longer be needed.”

Reduce bonuses and raises, not salaries. “When a recession hits, it’s tempting to knee-jerk and start lowering wages, especially for new hires,” says Wilson. “This can backfire, especially as new hires discover that they are being paid less than employees with the same experience and background.

Instead, look to merit-based bonuses and performance reviews. Rely on indisputable metrics to help you reward the employees who have earned their bonuses and raises, instead of just carelessly implementing them. It’s not about paying certain employees any less, but about rewarding the ones who are truly doing the lion’s share of the work.”

Beware of constant layoffs. “You don’t want staff who are always walking on eggshells and afraid that they will be the next one to be let go. If layoffs are in your future, do it in one large wave rather than a bunch of small waves that will keep all of your employees in fear and on edge. This is not an effective way to manage staff and keep people motivated and doing their best work. One group layoff is preferable to death by a thousand cuts.”

Look to outsourcing. “Outsourcing can be a tricky line to walk,” says Wilson. “You want your permanent employees to feel valued and supported, but the truth is that outsourcing can be a goldmine of opportunity, especially during a recession. The best workers are going to have options, and they know this: So you need to make your workplace a desirable option, not at the expense of your existing employees, but in a way that is desirable for contracted employees who are seeking flexible opportunities for advancement.”

For more on this topic, please contact Rob Wilson at