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Precious Resource: Survival Tactics for Hiring and Retaining Employees in a Down Economy

Article contributed to IGWB by Beth Deighan, President of Casino Careers, LLC
The gaming industry that once proclaimed itself impervious to economic downturns now finds this is no longer true.  Casinos are declaring bankruptcy and defaulting on debt, new construction is delayed, expansions are placed on hold and almost every sector of gaming is affected – from technology to pari-mutuel.
As gaming company revenues decline, so does hiring. Job Boards and Executive Search firms are seeing a 50 – 75% reduction in requests for staffing services and an insurgence of job seekers. The International Labor Organization estimates that the current global unemployment rate of 6.1% - with 198 million unemployed worldwide, (of which 12.5 million reside in the US), may rise to 7.1% by end of 2009.
Managing in a Down Economy
On a positive note, today's talent management technology provides the tools for HR and management to make the right decisions about their workforce.  Instead of making the mass job cuts that characterized previous recessions, many organizations are taking a more intelligent and nuanced approach to cutting their costs, while maintaining a commitment to the retention of key talent.
Employers are taking a long, hard look at their compensation and incentive programs, to determine where they can make cuts in discretionary spending by eliminating overtime, employee events and entertainment, freezing pay increases, eliminating bonuses and 401K contributions, and reducing training & development programs and employee travel. Yet, many are concerned about alienating their top performers. 
Taleo Corporation, a provider of talent management solutions, recently conducted a global survey of 345 corporate executives and respected talent management leaders to develop the Top Do's and Don'ts for Managing Talent in a downturn economy.
The research was based on the premise that this recession is different than any experienced by those in today's leadership and HR management positions. Therefore, recognizing that workforce expenses usually account for as much as 70% of a business's overall cost, the research sought to distill the best practices in staffing management for making better cost-cutting and productivity-impacting decisions, regardless of geography.
Best Practices in Downsizing:
  • Identify the work that is core to retaining business (not just the work that is being done well). Look at core and critical positions to prioritize where, if necessary, headcount can be cut.
  • Identify competencies needed to meet business goals. Use workforce planning and performance management to make better decisions.
  • Protect your bottom line and your brand. When making downsizing decisions, consider that poor execution and planning has long-term brand effects and instant Internet scrutiny. If you must let go of personnel, do so without burning your bridges.
  • Communicate constantly. Let staff know what you know, when you know it and provide them the dignity they deserve.
  • Pay attention to survivors. Let them know why they were kept, or bear the consequences ranging from low engagement and productivity to leaving of their own volition.
HR management (many with recruitment staffs and budgets slashed up to 75%), must anticipate and be prepared for a time when the economy will improve. They should not rely on traditional recruitment methods; but should implement new and more flexible ways to manage their employee recruitment process.
How to Find the Best Talent
·       Ask employees for referrals. Employee referrals generate high-quality candidates.
·       Ask new hires for referrals. During orientation, ask them for names of colleagues who are qualified and might be interested.
·       Recruit at professional events. Encourage your executives to speak at these events to improve your brand image.
·       Develop a video to more effectively show why your property is a great place to work.
·       Reach out to alumni employees who have left the company or retired to see about their interest in returning. 
·       If some time has passed, contact top candidates who turned down a job offer from you and re-sell the position. 
·       Use interns. Many college students will work free for the experience.
·       Utilize cost-effective industry-specific recruitment resources to publicize your company brand and opportunities on the Internet and target qualified job seekers using a direct marketing email program.
·       Develop a strong online presence by:
o      Creating a corporate Facebook page.
o      Starting a LinkedIn group.
o      Developing a YouTube broadcast.
o      Providing IM or a Job Seeker Inquiry form on your web site
Retention in the Down Economy
Retention still tops the list of toughest staffing challenges according to a new Robert Half Internal survey. When asked what currently concerned them the most, employers listed:
·       Retaining current employees (39%)
·       Recruiting new employees (22%)
·       Keeping productivity high (17%) and
·       Improving moral (17%)
When HR professionals were asked what their top retention programs were, the overwhelming response was tuition reimbursement, competitive vacation and holiday benefits and competitive salaries. These are certainly important benefits, but when all companies offer the same retention elements, how effective can the program be? So while employers will tell you their most valuable asset is their employees, they are not placing much effort or creativity on retaining this asset. 
Retention of an employee base in today’s gaming environment needs a three-pronged approach: 
  • Frank talk from management.
·      Focus on creativity to find better ways to do things. 
·      Programs to help employees cope. 
How to Keep Employees
In this trying economic time, it is a herculean task for both human resources and staff managers to maintain a loyal and productive workforce. It is understandably hard for employees to focus on their jobs when they are fearful that tomorrow they may not have one. 
So what can gaming companies do retain their workforce and manage property morale?
·       First, tell employees the bad news. Make sure they know what is happening and hear it from you; not the grapevine or media. Communicate frequently and honestly including providing the real numbers of staff reductions.
·       Ask employees if they would be willing to take a pay cut or accrue additional time off to reduce payroll costs in order to retain more employees.
·       Offer employees increased flexibility. Many employers are giving workers more freedom to set their hours, compress their work week and telecommute. 
·       Give back to employees where you can by offering flextime, additional vacation time and increased responsibilities not just more work.
·       Provide programs to help employees deal with stress. Those employees who survived downsizing are required to do more work as the responsibilities of downsized employees are assigned to the remaining employees. Moreover, some of the employees that have survived the downsizing have such restricted hours that they can’t pay their bills. 
·       Finally, salaries must be frozen, extraneous programs cut, even benefits reduced. 
·       “Fix” Incentive Plan. An incentive plan is put in place to reward and motivate employees. But if talented employees have no chance of earning incentive dollars because of marketplace changes, the plan begins to have a negative effect on staff morale and retention. 
How to Keep Key Employees
In addition to the retention of the employee base, special emphasis needs to be placed on developing stronger retention programs for employees who are critical to the company’s success.   Companies need to make sure these employees are not vulnerable to the aggressive offers that will likely come their way. The most common elements in traditional employee incentive plans have been annual bonuses based on financial performance and stock options. But the poor financial performance of gaming companies and the drop in value of their stocks have made these traditional incentive plans somewhat ineffective. 
Hay Group recently conducted a global research study in order to assist organizations in understanding the extent to which companies have altered, or are considering altering their reward programs. A total of 2,589 organizations from 91 countries across six continents participated in this study, demonstrating that the effects of the downturn are being felt worldwide.
The majority of the strategies discussed earlier in this article are being implemented worldwide. However, it is important to note that when respondents were asked to list their organization’s biggest concerns regarding key employees during this challenging time, organizations fear the loss of top talent and critical skills.
The top concerns of organizations include:
− Retaining top talent / critical skills
− Maintaining / affording competitive pay
− Maintaining employee engagement / motivation
− Career development / training
− Recruiting top talent / critical skills
To keep their very best and most critical employees companies should consider providing aggressive incentive plans that:
·       Guarantee minimum year-end performance-based bonuses in key areas other than EBITA, such as service enhancement, cost-efficiency and innovation
·       Grant more stock options/shares/units and consider changing the mix of options/shares/units
·       Reduce the performance criteria for vesting
·       Provide employment contracts as a cost-free way to show employees how valuable they are to the company. 
A program like this will obviously cost money, but it makes sense for certain highly skilled employees. 
Performance is Key for HR Credibility
HR leaders understand that the current economic climate has significantly influenced the way they must structure, recruit, retain and motivate their workforce.  They are expected to have a tangible impact on the profitability of their business.
It is critical to keep employees motivated during these times. Organizations have the opportunity to take a hard look at the intent, design, and implementation of their human resources programs. Those that think strategically and creatively will emerge in a position of strength to take advantage of the future upturn.
HRM technology solutions can help savvy HR professionals strategically manage through the crisis and prepare as the economy inevitably rises. Trends that HR professionals must embrace in 2009 include managing and developing talent, HRM analytics, Web 2.0, on-boarding and implementing a HR technology strategy to do more with less.