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4 layoff alternatives energy businesses should consider in a downturn, according to this Houston expert

Here's what you should consider if you need to make cuts to your business — now or in the future. Photo via Getty Images

Preparing for a potential economic downturn can be unsettling for employers and employees. As payroll is typically one of the largest expenditures for a business, no matter its size, layoffs seem like the quickest fix. While this may offer short-term relief, they can severely impact operations and workplace culture.

When staff is reduced, culture can suffer. Employee morale can decrease and distrust may build, especially if layoffs are not communicated properly. This can lead to the remaining employees feeling anxious about their own future with the organization and spur them to look for employment elsewhere, which can affect an organization’s overall productivity and day-to-day operations.

Business owners should get creative and consider the impact and the many alternatives before resorting to workforce reductions.

Analyze salaries

If the organization’s downturn is short-term, senior leadership and upper management could accept temporary salary reductions until business improves. However, if the situation is more dire, leaders might consider an option such as cutting overhead with job sharing. Employee numbers then remain the same, but two positions become one and it is filled by two part-time employees to support a function or role. Furloughs for non-essential employees give employers time to consider if permanent layoffs are necessary. Of course, this requires an understanding of each performers contribution within the organization to determine overall impact and level of “necessity.”

Look at schedules

Permanent remote work could save on operating costs, such as leases and travel expenses, which gives more budgetary leeway to avoid layoffs. Another approach is implementing a four-day workweek to reduce hours and salaries by 20 percent. The added benefit to a shortened workweek is better employee work-life balance.

Scale Back Benefits

When finances are in a critical state, and leadership is looking to avoid layoffs, employers can scale benefits and perks for all employees. Temporarily pausing the 401(k) match, relying more on virtual business meetings instead of incurring travel expenses, and cutting employee bonuses can help ease the economic burden without letting people go. As with salary reductions, scaling back on benefits should begin with leadership before expanding to others.

Streamline Systems

When auditing the company, employers should also evaluate company processes and workflows for efficiency. It’s possible an employee could be more productive in a different role or a process may be found to be more laborious than necessary. Digital software is another alternative to help streamline systems. Employee feedback is another great resource to help identify gaps and streamline processes. A good practice is to have performers look for ways to make tasks within their role more efficient and productive.

Every decision has its costs. The most important thing employers can do is to be open and honest with employees, including transparency about the state of business. This communication style can increase employee buy-in during economic uncertainty and encourage employees to rally and be part of the resiliency of the organization.

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Karen Leal is a performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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A View From HETI

The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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