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Employers see light at end of recession tunnel, according to SHRM poll

In a sign the economy is inching toward recovery, fewer employers froze wage increases, cut employee bonuses, and implemented layoffs in the last six months, according to a new poll of human resource professionals. The poll – “Financial Challenges to the U.S. and Global Economy and Their Impact on Organizations –Fall 2010 Update” – released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 60 percent of businesses made budget cuts across the entire organization, down from a high of 73 percent in the fall of 2009.

A third of surveyed organizations froze employee wages (39 percent), cut employee bonuses (38 percent) and implemented layoffs (36 percent), down from their highest levels in the fall of 2009.

“Organizations are responding to minor improvements in the economy by reinstating employee wage increases and bonuses which shows that they are invested in keeping their workforce intact,” said Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center. “Fewer organizations have hiring freezes and layoffs both signs that some job growth is occurring.”

Employers continue to struggle through lasting effects of the recession as 20 percent indicated they had to reduce employee benefits in the last six months, the highest level since the fall of 2008, when the first in this series of economic polls was released. The benefits most frequently reduced were health care coverage for employees (91 percent), health care coverage for spouses and dependents (89 percent), company paid relocation programs (55 percent) and the amount of leave an employee could accrue (54 percent).

HR professionals indicated actions their organizations could take in the next six months if current financial challenges continue, including:

  • Allowing attrition (26 percent “very likely,” 39 percent “somewhat likely”);
  • Freezing employee wage increases (25 percent “very likely, “24 percent “somewhat likely”);
  • Making budget cuts across the entire organization (21 percent “very likely,” 36 percent “somewhat likely”);
  • Cutting employee bonuses (21 percent “very likely,” 26 percent “somewhat likely”); and
  • Implementing hiring freezes (16 percent “very likely,” 30 percent “somewhat likely”).

The poll, which measures opinions held by 405 randomly selected HR professionals, was conducted Nov. 8, 2010 – Jan. 13, 2011. Other key findings were:

  • Government agencies (85 percent) were more likely to cut budgets across the entire organization than privately owned for-profit organizations (51 percent).
  • Almost a third of organizations (32 percent) said that they will likely (”very likely,” or “likely”) reduce employee benefit offerings if the economy does not improve.
  • The number of employers that hired contract or temporary employees in the past six months as a response to financial challenges (23 percent) has increased since the fall of 2008 (12 percent).
  • In the past six months, 38 percent of organizations have re-hired employees laid off due to the recession.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management; www.shrm.org.