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Webinar: Emerging from Recession 1. Hiring Strategies

Different industries will recover from the recession at different rates. So in addition to monitoring general economic news, company managers – including lab managers – must closely track business trends in their own industry. The World Chemical Outl

Different industries will recover from the recession at different rates. So in addition to monitoring general economic news, company managers – including lab managers – must closely track business trends in their own industry. The World Chemical Outlook series of articles in the January 11 issue of Chemical & Engineering News can help them do this for a variety of chemical industry segments.

When data clearly demonstrate that a recovery is occurring, organizations will be more willing to spend funds "on the front lines" to reopen production plants or add additional shifts to operate facilities 24/7. Where labs will most probably first see an increasing demand for their services is in customer support and technical services. Managers have four main options in responding to increasing demands.

1. Doing nothing

If the current customer service lab staff is under-utilized, the best strategy, at least initially is to do nothing and allow the workload for your customer service specialists to increase. Lab managers be sure that workloads don't become excessive resulting in staff members cutting corners and reducing the quality of their work. Even if there is no hiring, customer support spending may increase. For example, increased business travel may be required. (However, today's communications technology means that there are alternatives to face-to-face meetings with customers and suppliers.) Increased consumption of lab supplies and great use of outsourced functions such as analytical work may be required.

2. Transferring staff members into customer service

Transferring staff members working on new product and product development into technical service work or having them devote a portion of their time to it is another strategy. This does not increase current laboratory costs. However, there is a hidden cost. The pace of new technology development is slowed. The company may not be ready with the new products and services that customers will soon be demanding. So in making the decision to shift staff resources into technical services, lab managers must balance current versus future needs.

3. Hiring additional staff

Hiring additional staff is an obvious strategy. However, budget constraints may make this impossible. The laboratory manager must persuade funding authorities to increase lab staffing budget. Their arguments must be persuasive since funding authorities may fear the recession isn't really over for their firm. Clear examples of how inadequate customer service staffing could result in loss of current or potential business are probably needed as are persuasive explanations of why Strategies 1 and 2 above are insufficient to meet increasing demand for customer service lab work. There is also a hidden pitfall in hiring new laboratory staff – an influx of a large number of new employees. The time required for training may reduce the productivity of current staff members in meeting customer demands. Hiring experienced personnel can reduce this problem.

4. Hiring contract or temporary staff members

This strategy can reduce the concerns of funding authorities that staff expansion is premature. There are at least two major advantages of this type of outsourcing. Discharging temps does not involve expensive severance packages often associated with staff reductions. It also does not have the same emotional impact on lab staff members as a layoff reducing their own ranks.

John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.