How to deal with cutting a valued worker's hours
August 9, 2009 6:49 AM   Subscribe

The higher-ups want us to cut a worker's hours by 12 (28 hours a week). No amount of reasoning will change their mind, so how do we handle this situation?

This is in America, 4 people are involved here:

A: The director of the region
B: The head of the local branch, who reports to A
C: (Me) The head of a department at the local branch, who reports to B
D: The worker grunt, who reports to C

We are a business that has a sales department and department which builds the advertisements for the sales department. With the economy, sales are down and have been down throughout the year. Still, we've kept D, who builds most of the ads, employed despite obviously less work. D has spent that time learning new technologies for the web, so B and C feel the slow time has been well spent. As you can tell, D is a valued employee, works hard, contributes and is well liked in the office.

Word has come done from A that we have to cut D's hours, from 40 to 28. D will still be able to keep benefits and any accrued vacation time, but will lose about $500 a month in pay, on an already tight salary. B and C has thought of various scenarios to not have this happen, but all have been shot down, even if it's just a matter of selling ONE more ad a week. The issue doesn't seem to be one of making more money, but rather cutting expenses, with a firm eye on the bottom line. Note that we won't lose money this year, we'll just make a smaller profit.

Let me repeat, not cutting D's hours is not an option, sheer reasoning doesn't work, the corporation as a whole wants to cut expenses and has picked those who build ads as one way to do this. They've made this cuts throughout the company, we're one of the last hold outs.

B has been quietly pressured about this since the beginning of the year and resisted, but now it's coming to a head, as B has relayed to C (me) this past week what's going to happen and that it's probably going to happen this coming week.

Questions, concerning D:
Whats the best way to tell this to D? Obviously the general tone is one of sorrow, as it's a matter of the economy and hey, you still get to keep benefits, etc, etc. I've thought of a new schedule for D that would give them time off during the week to pursue freelance work and give them more time with their spouse and we're trying to give a month's notice before the change in salary kicks in, but is there anything else you can think of doing that will dull this impact or baring that smooth it over so that D isn't too angry and resentful?

D is a bit of a drama queen and oversharer, so this bound to be taken hard, a huge crying scene is expected, but we're ok with that, because hey, it totally fucking sucks, D has a right to be upset and fume, but we can't have it impact the work long term.

Questions, concerning C (me):
I've known about this for a week now and I'm finding it hard to act normal knowing that I'm about to hurt another human being and that there isn't much I can do to prevent it, even as hear how D and the spouse have decided to splurge on X, because hey, it's been a while since they've done that. This may well cost D her house and almost certainly will cost the generally good daily working relationship we have (D and I work in one room). How do people deal with these sort of stresses, both as a manager and as a human being?
posted by artisticastronaut to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Do you have any work that gets contracted out to freelancers? If so, could D BE one of those freelancers?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2009

Ok, you've implied that you're a member of a relatively large org (e.g., "Director of the Region", "Head of the Local Branch") so your firm must have an HR function.

You seriously need HR involved; you're proposing cutting hours for one staff member? There is some possible legal exposure there.

I hope this person is aged or could use another argument that this decision was arrived at in a discriminatory manner. Because you'd be surprised (comments about "drama queen" aside) what folks get up to when they believe they've been treated badly.

I've hired and fired lots of folks during my banking career. In my view, HR is there for three reasons: one, making sure the correct people enter the firm, two, protecting the firm from those people once on staff and three, when it comes time for them to leave they do so without harming the firm.

So YOU don't tell this person. You AND someone from Human Resources tells this person.

If your HR department is up to snuff, they'll have the complete rationale all laid out, and can explain it to the individual in a manner that will protect the firm, and hopefully let them understand the how's and why's of the firm's decision.

Its not your decision. This decision wasn't arrived at by the Director of the Region, not by the Head of the Local Branch.

It was a team decision, and the team has to pull together to communicate it.

I've communicated news like this before. Nobody likes receiving this news and believe me, nobody likes delivering this news.

There are two ways this can end; the employee continues on with reduced hours and is productive.

Or messily, perhaps even litigation with possible reutational damage.

Get HR involved.
posted by Mutant at 7:19 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I hope this person isn't aged ...."
posted by Mutant at 7:21 AM on August 9, 2009

Having been on the receiving end of cut hours a couple of times, I would hope that when you say that a schedule has been worked out, that you mean the employee is completely cut free on those days off. I was asked to give up a day a week, but to be available in case I was needed that day. I said, no way, if I am off on Tuesdays, then I am free to take another job, make other commitments. You can ask me if I am available, but I may not be. My boss thought my stance was being unreasonable.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:31 AM on August 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

If I were the employee, having a half day Thursday and all Friday off would take some of the sting off. And I would expect that I was free to take other work those days. Just make sure no one calls up the worker on his off days.
posted by musofire at 7:41 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

you're proposing cutting hours for one staff member?

To be clear, we're cutting (there is no proposing about it, dammit) hours for one staff member at this particular branch, but similar positions at other branches have had their hours reduced also.
posted by artisticastronaut at 7:41 AM on August 9, 2009

Concerning letting D know: I'd suggst listening to the Manager Tools podcast on compassionate layoffs. You're just cutting hours, but it sounds like this may effectively be the same thing if this person is paycheck to paycheck.

Concerning yourself: Throw up after you do it if you need to, but you have to do what your director is telling you. It sounds to me like many of these ad producers are losing hours, but there only happens to be one under your span of control. If this is the case, I'd caution against what Mutant says and trying to go around a boss two levels up.

Honestly, artisticastronaut, if you're feeling this awful about it, you're probably a damn good manager that cares about their directs. This is going to suck, it's going to be awful, and you're going to have to do it anyway. These are the situations where you find out if management is really for you or not. Just do what you can for your direct, then go home and hug a spouse/pet/friend and remember that this is an unfortunate reality of capitalism.
posted by bfranklin at 7:49 AM on August 9, 2009

Mutant has it. HR/Personnel need to be involved and in the room when this is communicated. The fact that you're going to work the schedule so D can take on other freelance work, and you're giving them notice of the change in hours ahead of time is good.
It sounds like you're a caring and thoughtful boss, you do what you can but in the end it has to be done and delaying it only makes matters worse.
Be prepared for the tears etc., also be prepared that D might walk if they find enough freelance work or another full-time position elsewhere.
It's not pleasant, but you owe it to D to be straightforward and humane when you do it. Please do get HR involved since they are experienced in handling this right.
posted by arcticseal at 7:52 AM on August 9, 2009

Oh, also, the Managing Through a Personal Crisis podcasts (Part 1, Part 2) may be helpful in dealing with drama if this direct decides to stay on in spite of the reduced hours.

Talk to your boss about what outcome s/he would like to see out of this. Every employee's #1 job is to have their boss's back. Having a target outcome in mind will help with deciding on scheduling days off and any other minor incentives you can offer while you try to retain and satisfy your direct.

Finally, be honest with yourself about this direct. Are they a top performer? Middle of the road? If they decide to stay on, make it your goal to put together a development plan to keep them on for the long haul. If selling one more ad a week would have been a viable alternative, get this direct selling to the point where management is losing money by not having them FT. Have them identify process improvements to reduce expenses for the position. Make sure you commit to helping to keep the position around if they stay.
posted by bfranklin at 8:01 AM on August 9, 2009

I don’t have any suggestions re:how to tell D/or how to deal with this. I would like to nth what many of the other posters have said, you sound very compassionate/concerned for your employee. That is very rare.

The only reason that I am posting is that provided D wants to launch a freelance business, I am going to list some things that you could do to truly help D succeed and get work either now or in the next few months. This may help make things easier for D (I am a full-time freelancer, and wish my former workplace and boss would have done these things for me, I’ve heard of other bosses doing this.)

Let D design his or her schedule (in advance, of course), but D could decide how to best optimize a freelance plus part-time job arrangement.

You can also send an email to former respected colleagues who work in the industry (who won’t view this as spam) and say something along the lines of “Dear respected colleagues, My employee, Person D, has recently started a freelance business. Person D has X, Y, and ZZY experience in this industry. Person D’s work is impeccable and always completely quickly and on-time. I would highly recommend Person D as a freelancer. Here is my contact information if you need to speak to a professional reference, and here is D’s information.” (Again, only if D wants this, and have the letter say things that employee D actually demonstrates and does). Perhaps have an actual link back to D’s work.

Do you have a list of other businesses that do work similar to your place? Give that list to person D. If person D writes a letter of introduction and emails it off to several companies, he or she will get work. ..either now or in the next few months.
posted by Wolfster at 8:32 AM on August 9, 2009

"Here is my contact information if you need to speak to a professional reference, and here is D’s information.”

Be careful about this. Many large organizations have a "no professional reference" for managers and supervisors, and recommending someone's work or offering to be a reference may get you in trouble (and get your organization sued). You should ask your HR department about it.

I've been a manager through several different layoffs, and known ahead of time but not been able to say anything. This situation is one of the hardest you'll face (knowing something adverse to an employee before they do), and I'd recommend you plan now for how you deal with your stress.

Screaming, crying and playing first-person shooters have helped me in the past.
posted by Gorgik at 8:47 AM on August 9, 2009

Er, '..."no professional reference" policy...'
posted by Gorgik at 8:48 AM on August 9, 2009

Just want to publicly own up to misreading Mutant's post and characterizing Mutant as suggesting going around one's director. Apparently my reading comprehension is the fail. Mea culpa.
posted by bfranklin at 12:55 PM on August 9, 2009

I have recently read about people getting partial unemployment benefits when their hours are reduced. This might help soften the blow a bit if your state has such a program.
posted by heliotrope at 1:48 PM on August 9, 2009

If you let the employee work three 9 1/3 hour days in a row and have four days off she might like that.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:54 PM on August 12, 2009

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