How ‘pruning’ your workforce can prevent mass layoffs

Brighthouse Financial's CHRO reveals insightful retention techniques

How ‘pruning’ your workforce can prevent mass layoffs

The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) sent ripples throughout the global business community. In times of turbulence, it’s important for HR to adapt and mitigate stress, tensions, and boost morale in order to ensure employees continue to feel valued and rewarded for their work. 

When it comes to job losses, employers need to act compassionately but decisively – always prioritizing communication. Speaking to HRD, Vonda Huss, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Brighthouse Financial, says they’re very deliberate in their HR processes to avoid staffing concerns.

When a catastrophic financial event happens, like with SVB, the first step in this process is effective communication with employees, contextualizing the impact of such events and assuaging any concerns. 

Handling the ‘knock-on effect’ of a crisis

“The first thing that’s important for us to do is to make sure that we are communicating with employees and putting things in context for what it means for us,” says Huss. “Does this impact us in a big way? Does this impact us a little bit? Is this a crisis?” 

Issues such as a banking collapse can have an unwanted knock-on effect – employees and employers starting fretting over workforce reductions and looking at their bottom line. At Brighthouse, they have a “pruning” process that evolves across the year – something which keeps sweeping changes at bay. 

“Every year, we go through a process of thinking about our goals and objectives for the next year,” she says. “Do we need to staff up? Do we need to trim? What do we need to do? That way we get really clear on an annual basis – and we check on that midway through the year and assess whether it feels right. We’re not constantly increasing and decreasing our workforce, but we are managing it on an ongoing basis.” 

‘Pruning constantly’

It’s this continual management process that can help prevent mass layoffs down the line. If the recent terminations in the tech space have taught us anything, it’s that forethought is needed before mass hirings. According to Zippia, in 2022 there were 15.4 million layoffs in the U.S. These events are not only hurting productivity, they’re also destroy employee wellbeing – with 48% of employees reportedly suffering from layoff anxiety.  

Speaking with Huss, she underscores the importance of this “pruning constantly”, reshaping your workforce to meet your current needs – instead of sweeping hirings and firings.   

“Because we have this in place, it’s a little less impactful when something big happens,” she says. “When we go through that annual process and think about the goals that are coming up for the year, we give some good thought to how long we’ll need people on a particular project. Can that be more of a temporary person or a consultant that we bring in so that it's not a higher and fire situation? That’s something we think on.”

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