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JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT VOLUME 7 NO 1, JUNE, 2009

HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENTAND  ECONOMIC CRISIS: THE WAY FORWARD FOR NIGERIA

David Favour Imhonopi and Ugochukwu Moses Urim

Department of Sociology, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye

 

 

Abstract

 

The global economic and financial crisis has sent Tsunami ripples and wave shocks across the different socio-economic and political institutions in the present global environment. Tension is mounting everywhere as job cuts are on the increase, while many hitherto global corporate leviathans are shutting down their operations and a few are declaring bankruptcy. HRM experts in Nigeria are befuddled as to how the human resource element in the industry is to perform in the wake of the global financial meltdown in being part of the solution to the crisis and at the same time shoring up the confidence of stakeholders that human resource is still the one important resource for continued business success and stability. This paper examines the impact of the crisis on employment and job-related issues and provides suggestions on the way forward for HRM practitioners in Nigeria as they respond to the various challenges thrown up by the present economic debacle.

 

Keywords: Job Cuts, Redundancies, Human Resource Management, Global Financial Crisis, Employment.

 


Introduction

What began as a rumour has suddenly transformed itself into a frightening and rampaging Godzilla haunting down hitherto stable and profitable corporate leviathans, leaving behind gloomy pictures of pain, confusion and mystification. The global financial crisis is here for real. Although having manifested its ruthlessness and strangulation in developed and industrial economies already, gradually we are beginning to feel the bare fangs of its assault on the socio-economic and political terrains in Nigeria and other emerging economies. Job cuts, job losses, redundancies, right-sizing, downsizing are now terms and buzzwords that have been revived and frequently used as many financial and corporate institutions in a bid to survive the economic rampage, do away with many of their workers in what may gradually result in what we have called “labour market epidemic.”

 

The unfolding economic turmoil has forced Torbat (2008) to pontificate that the global financial meltdown signals the demise of neoliberalism. Although opponents of the neoliberal economic paradigm, especially Marxian scholars, may finally feel some justification and triumph in Karl Marx’s view that capitalism carries the seed of its own destruction, nevertheless, neoliberal scholars may still argue that neoliberalism possesses its own mechanisms of self-correction and self–regulation. Without pitching any tent with any of these theoretical propositions, this paper is concerned with how the global financial crisis has impacted on workers, and what response is expected of human resource practitioners as they battle with the issue of redundancies at the workplace in a bid to avert this economic catastrophe of global seismic dimensions.

 

Definition of terms

Human resource is a productive resource consisting of the talents and skills of human beings that contribute to the production of goods and services (www.northwestern.k12.oh.us/curriculum/documents/Glossary_001.doc). In other words, human resource comprises skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour, harnessed in the production process for the production of goods and/or services. Human resource has assumed different tags at different points in time and space. It is sometimes called labour, personnel, workers, etc. Human resource is the modern parlance chosen to describe workers because HR practitioners and management theorists have seen that workers are a fundamental part of the resources needed for achieving organisational goals. Besides, workers are the chief resource or asset that plans, coordinates, acquires, utilises and manages other resources or assets to achieve stated organisational objectives.

 

Similarly, as Armstrong (2006) notes, human resource management is the strategic and coherent approach to the management of an organisation's most valued assets - the people working there who individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the business. He argues further that the terms "human resource management" (HRM) and "human resources" (HR) have largely replaced the term "personnel management" as a description of the processes involved in managing people in organizations (ibid). Simply put, Human Resource Management (HRM) means employing people, developing and enhancing their skills and abilities, utilizing, maintaining and compensating their services in line with the job and organisational requirements.

Now, the global financial crisis refers to the severe credit, banking, currency, and trade crisis which emerged in September 2008. This crisis actually dates back to July 2007 chronicling the credit crisis which resulted from the subprime mortgage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_financial_crisis_of_2008). As Torbat (2008) put it, the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 is an ongoing major financial crisis which became prominently visible in September 2008 with the failure, merger, or conservatorship of several large United States-based financial firms. The underlying causes leading to the crisis had been reported in business journals for many months before September, with commentary about the financial stability of leading U.S. and European investment banks, insurance firms and mortgage banks consequent to the subprime mortgage crisis (Torbat, 2008; Evans-Pritchard, 2007; The Economist, 2008; New York Times, 2008).

The subprime mortgage crisis fingered as one of the triggers for the crisis, is also an ongoing financial crisis triggered by a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures in the United States, with major adverse consequences for banks and financial markets around the globe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_mortgage_crisis). The crisis, which has its roots in the closing years of the 20th century, became apparent in 2007 and has exposed pervasive weaknesses in financial industry regulation and the global financial system.

 

The global financial crisis which began with the failures of large financial institutions in the United States, rapidly evolved into a global credit crisis, deflation and sharp reductions in shipping (Bajaj, 2008; The Independent, 2008) resulting in a number of European bank failures and declines in various stock indexes, and large reductions in the market value of equities (stock) and commodities worldwide (Evans-Pritchard, 2007; Norris, 2008). The credit crisis was exacerbated by Section 128 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which allowed the Federal Reserve System to pay interest on excess reserve requirement balances held on deposit from banks, removing the longstanding incentive for banks to extend credit instead of hoard cash on deposit with the Fed (FRB Press Release, 2008; Crescenzi, 2008; Krell, 2008; Wilder, 2008; Lanman, 2008). The crisis led to a liquidity problem and the de-leveraging of financial institutions especially in the United States and Europe, which further accelerated the liquidity crisis, and a decrease in international shipping and commerce. World political leaders and national ministers of finance and central bank directors have coordinated their efforts (The Financial Times, 2008) to reduce fears but the crisis is ongoing and continues to change, evolving into a currency crisis with investors transferring vast capital resources into stronger currencies such as the yen, the dollar and the Swiss franc, leading many emergent economies to seek aid from the International Monetary Fund (Landler, 2008: Fackler, 2008). The crisis was triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis and is an acute phase of the financial crisis of 2007–2009.

Directly or indirectly linked to the financial crisis is the alleged corrupt practices of certain players in the financial system like Bernard Madoff and R. Allen Stanford who it is believed have duped and defrauded unsuspecting members of the public of their funds which they purportedly managed for them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff; http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090219/ap_on_re_us/stanford_sec). Pedro (2008) shares this view. According to him, “It is rather ironic that the model capitalist countries who pride themselves as the epitome of market discipline are the very ones who are plunging the global economy into crisis through mismanagement. The underlying cause of this crisis is mainly greed… It shows that the best organised and well regulated economy can fall victim to greedy and profiteering financiers and investment bankers who will take undue risk to make huge gains at the expense of others.”

 

The global financial crisis has created liquidity squeeze, credit crunch, increasing level of


deflation, erosion of the value of investment instruments, currency crisis, explosion of cases of individual and institutional bankruptcies, job losses and an all-time high increase in unemployment, budget deficit as experienced by many governments and their institutions and a heated global economic environment where the wall streets and the broad streets are badly hit by the crisis. 

 

 

The Global Financial Crisis and Its Impact on Human Resource Management

The impact of the global financial crisis has led to a global unemployment crisis resulting in millions of redundancies. In the US for instance, about 2.2 million jobs have been lost so far and still counting (Ogunsanwo, 2009). The global effect created by this crisis has profoundly touched on the door steps of hitherto corporate institutional monoliths resulting in a closure of factories and job losses for 1,200 workers in Marks & Spencer (Thomson, 2009); $2.9 billion loss for Nissan for the first time in 9 years and 20,000 redundancies (Paukert, 2009); more than $1 billion loss for Toyota, which is the first time in its 71-year history, leading to 4,600 job cuts (Massey, 2008); 16,000 job cuts in Sony and closure of several of its factories (McCurry, 2008); Time Warner Inc declared 800 job losses for some of its employees, Microsoft declared to cut up to 5,000 jobs, Circuit City, also a Fortune 500 retailing business eliminated about 30,000 jobs and a wide range of companies including Ericsson, mining company BHP Billiton (BHP), Clear Channel Communications, Eaton, UAL Corp (UAUA, Fortune 500), Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), Williams-Sonoma and Polaris Industries, which makes snowmobiles and motorcycles, announced job cuts totalling over 28,100 positions (Dickler, 2009). Harley-Davidson of Polaris Industries declared that his company job cuts were due to weak motorcycle market (ibid).

 

Shedlock (2008) saw this coming when he predicted massive job cuts arising from the revelation made by Bank of America Corp. (BAC) that it had decided to cut about 7,500 jobs after acquiring Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC), and Citigroup, America’s largest bank, declaring it would cut up to 6,500 investment banking jobs – as much as 10 per cent of its roughly 65,000 headcount worldwide.

 

Furthermore, the number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits has jumped to an all-time high near 5 million while new jobless claims remain well above 600,000. Both figures were worse than expected and new projections from the Federal Reserve show unemployment rising for the rest of this year (Crutsinger, 2009). An additional 1.5 million people are receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress in 2008, bringing the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits to 6.54 million for the week ending February 7th, 2009 (Crutsinger, 2009). According to Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, "The labor market is in disarray" (ibid).

 

According to O’Malley (2009), America now boasts of several empty cities as vacancy rates have been on the climb, making Las Vegas, Detroit, Dayton, Boston, New York, Honolulu and many others as victims of the recent housing bust. Even certain states in the United States like California are running out of cash. According to Groom and Cooney (2009), “California, America's most populous state and the world's eighth biggest economy, has experienced a dramatic fall in revenues because of the housing downturn, rising unemployment and a sharp pullback in consumer spending.” To conserve cash, the state has stopped public works projects, furloughed state employees for two days a month, is considering cutting 20,000 state jobs and has postponed sending out tax refunds (Ibid).  Sad to say, the government of Iceland has collapsed too (Ogunsanwo, 2009).

 

Statistics Canada reports that unemployment moved up from 0.6% to 7.2% in January 2009. This reflected an increase in unemployment of 129,000, almost entirely in full-time jobs, with a net loss of 101,000 in manufacturing. This is the highest level of job loss in several decades. Ontario (-71,000), British Columbia (-35,000) and Quebec (-26,000) accounted for almost all the job losses (Hrmguide.net, 2009). Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress calls the situation an economic tsunami for Canadian workers, having lost 213,000 good full-time jobs in the past three months and the unemployment rate staying at 7.2 percent (ibid). 

 

As we write, Japan is in its longest, deepest and most severe recession in the post-war period, as the economy has shrunk for a third straight quarter in the three months to December 2008 as the global slowdown crushed demand for Japanese exports, a key pillar of the world’s number two economy

(Marquez, 2009). Similarly, Asian stocks have also begun to melt like sugar in a tea cup (Ibid) and according to another report, several Asian companies, mostly financial companies, have also declared redundancies in order to survive the present crisis (Uniglobalunion.org, 2008).  The situation is not different from Europe where many factories and companies are folding up, sending more employed citizens into the already swollen labour market.

 

Impact of the Global Financial Meltdown on Employment in Nigeria

The impact of the global financial crisis has begun to send chilly wind into corporate Nigeria. We have entered into a season of job losses (Nwokocha, 2009). After several denials by the Nigerian government and the CBN Governor, Professor Charles Soludo that Nigeria was insulated from the effect of the crisis because we have favourable economic fundamentals (Kabiru, 2009), gradually the Nigerian economy is playing host to the visit of the economic slowdown.

 

However, the organised private sector was smarter than the government when it predicted the impact on the economy having read the danger signals wafting from the advanced economies. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicted massive job losses in the private sector between 10 and 15 percent job cuts in 2009 (Nwokocha, 2009). For instance, the manufacturing sector in the country is already affected by massive decline in capacity utilization resulting from high exchange rate of the Naira and congestion at the ports. The crisis has compounded the challenges faced by the manufacturing sector. In 2008, Dunlop Nigeria Plc, the only surviving tyre manufacturing company, shut down its plants and laid off hundreds of its workers and put some others on half remuneration (Kabiru, 2009). In the textile sector, about 5,000 workers were forced out of job in late 2008. Recently, the Nigerian auto assembly company, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), sacked 565 workers of its 753 workforce and placed the remaining staff on half salary (Ibid). Similarly, the confectionery maker, Cadbury Nigeria Plc. has fired 300 staff (Ibid), while in the banking sector, massive sack is imminent as some banks are trying to tie the planned sack with the annual staff appraisal (Ibid).

According to Nwachukwu (2009), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently revealed that as many as 51 million workers have been fired in 2009 globally, while 30 million more jobs are at risk. The United Nations, meanwhile, predicts that 200 million workers mostly in developing economies could be pushed into extreme poverty (Ibid). The global unemployment rate is estimated at 6.5 percent in 2009, up from 6 percent in 2008 and 5.7 percent in 2007. What this means is that the global economic meltdown is already resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of people joining the labour market and swelling the rank of the unemployed, creating a “labour market epidemic.”

Human Resources Management Response to the Global Financial Conundrum

Price (2008) postulates that HR managers have not been able to discover their strategic role in the management of human resources such that they work in tandem with management in determining future manpower needs and how workers fit into the big picture in the realisation of organisational goals. The fallout of the global financial and economic crisis has shown that human resource or workers are the first to be disposed when organisations are embarking on belt-tightening financial campaigns. The reasons may not be far-fetched. One, HR is considered a cost centre. So it does not create money or bring in cash into the organisation. Two, with the use of technology and smarter management practices like process reengineering, the long and sometimes tedious processes involved in the creation of certain products are shortened, thus eliminating the workers involved at that level. Three, management is quick to offload workers when the corporate ship is sinking in the belief that doing that reduces cost and helps the business stay afloat.

 

While these positions may be true, they portend a serious threat to corporate growth and stability. The danger is that human resource should not be the first to be thrown overboard when there is a threat to the corporate ship, but management should be proactive, or even inventive enough, to identify innovative ways of averting and/or surviving an economic crisis like the one we are currently in. Davidson (2009) argues very strongly in this line: “Consultants and professional services firms are reliant on their people. They are the core of their business, which is why many firms are keen to keep hold of their skilled staff. For many

other businesses, redundancies are an obvious way to cut costs, but for project based companies it has to be the last resort. Many of these companies are reluctant to go down the same route as they did in the early 1990s - when redundancies were the first port of call for any CEO looking to balance the books. It took them a long time to get the same quality of staff back through the door when work started coming in - and as a result it took them longer to respond to positive circumstances.” This shows that companies that look to redundancies as a way of cutting costs may actually be doing themselves a disservice in the long run.

Davidson (2009) argues further that “In many ways a downturn can actually be an opportunity for … businesses to focus their working systems. It can provide a catalyst to tighten the structure of the company so that it is as much about the people within it, as it is about the systems behind it. The benefits will be seen more than ever when the upturn comes and you can grow with the knowledge that your business has the right structure behind it and the right people at the front.” Identifying redundancies, pushing for job cuts may actually reduce the costs of business operations, but it questions the recruitment and selection process of an organisation and creates a forceful exit of knowledgeable workers who in the real sense could help turn around the business and/or financial misfortunes of a going concern when and if they are properly briefed and tasked to do so.

 

HRM and The Global Financial Crisis: The Way Forward

An interesting survey was carried out by Booz & Company of 828 senior managers from 65 countries where the corporate responses to the global economic crisis and the impact on social responsibility agendas were explored (hrmguide.net, 2009). Respondents came from a variety of major industries. Over one-third (37 per cent) were CEOs or reported directly to CEOs; an additional 24 per cent were two layers below CEO. Managers from Western Europe predominated (38 per cent) followed by North America (30 per cent) and emerging markets (28 per cent). Respondents were asked to assess their company's financial strength (ability to function without immediate external financial support) and competitive strength (relationship to competition in respect of costs, product/brand positioning, technology/capabilities, leadership/management, and ability to influence or collaborate with regulatory authorities). Companies were categorized as strong (both financially and competitively), stable (strong financially but weak competitively), struggling (weak financially but strong competitively) or failing (weak in both areas).

 

The survey found that irrespective of their designation, companies were finding it difficult to identify effective responses to the current economic downturn ( 40 per cent questioned whether their leadership had a credible plan in place). Many respondents (46 per cent) doubted their leader's ability to implement a crisis strategy even if apparently credible. One-third of CEO and CXO-level respondents were not confident about their own plans (ibid).

 

The survey also found that 65 per cent of struggling companies had responded insufficiently to ensure their own survival (such as increased attention to asset disposal or pursuit of external funding) (Ibid). One-quarter of companies that considered themselves financially secure were not taking advantage of opportunities to improve their position. More than half (54 per cent) of respondents expected their organizations to emerge from the crisis stronger but the survey did not support this optimism, finding discrepancies between many companies' financial and competitive position and their strategic response. Bill Jackson, Booz & Company senior partner explained: "Companies have focused on the near term, some at the expense of the long-term opportunities. The strong ones need to go long. They need to create a view of new industry structure. Many strong and stable companies are playing things too short-term oriented for the moment. The really struggling and failing companies have reacted dramatically and some have already moved into bankruptcy." The survey found that, in many cases, companies were not following the most appropriate course of action. It concluded:

·         While struggling and failing companies would be expected to accelerate efforts to improve working capital positions, slash overheads, drive process      

·         improvements and renegotiate deals with suppliers, surprisingly many are not. Between a quarter and a third of respondents say their companies are pursuing such strategies no more aggressively than they were before the crisis.

·         Stable and strong companies are more focused on cutting costs across the board and conserving cash than on opportunities to strengthen their competitive positions.

 

·         While stable companies would be expected to capitalize on the crisis by buying companies with compelling products or brands but weak finances, or pursuing other growth initiatives, 21 per cent are pulling back on mergers and acquisitions, as are the same percentage of strong companies. One in five stable companies is also investing less in new products or slowing moves into emerging markets.

 

The interesting findings from this survey shows that, while many companies are quick at cutting jobs and picking out redundancies, other important and smart measures are left out which could have been safety nets for these companies. These measures include:

 

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One, streamlining the internal structure like resource and report planning systems, thereby enabling businesses to see the savings that can be made from deploying resources properly, without anyone, or anything 'on the bench' costing money rather than making it. This means running an efficient business specifically from a control and management perspective (Davidson, 2009). Effective resource management is the key to this because you cannot run a successful commercial operation without a complete overview of the business. Two, Davidson (2009) also suggests improvement of working systems. Improving the working systems can provide a catalyst to tighten the structure of a company so that it is as much about the people within it, as it is about the systems behind it. Three, business has to be played by the rules. Partly, the reason for the exacerbation of the current global crisis is due to the greed and corrupt business practices of some individuals and organisations. Four, if it is unavoidable that job losses have to be made, then labour market policy can and should play an important role in supporting the unemployed; through income support schemes and active programmes to help the unemployed search for a new job and improve their skills if needed. Additional measures may also be needed in a place like Nigeria to help the most disadvantaged but these have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (www.oecd.org, 2009).

ountries all over the world are providing social and economic safety nets for their people. The Nigerian government needs to create safe social and economic nets for its people.

Conclusion

The recent downturn in the economy is having negative effects on engagement levels and this is something every business should be concerned with. While engaged employees will not make the recession disappear, they will certainly help companies get through it with far more success than would otherwise be possible. Therefore as Milloy (2009) argues, "Over the past few years, companies have made substantial investments in developing engaged workplaces. The idea is quite simple - an engaged employee will have an increased desire, willingness and ability to go the extra mile, will speak more positively of the company and will be more than willing to stay and help out when times get tough." To overcome this crisis, HR practitioners need to be more strategic and need to support their engaged employees.

 

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Websites used

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090216/ap_on_bi_ge/delphi_layoffs;_ylt=Ap4htJ3DNMhyJFEjpkc1z_lv24cA;_ylu=X3oDMTFlcGlpZHZ1BHBvcwMxNQRzZWMDYWNjb3JkaW9uX2J1c2luZXNzBHNsawNuZWFybHk4MDBqb2I-, Top of Form 1, February 16, 2009

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090219/ap_on_re_us/stanford_sec. Retrieved February 20th , 2009

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-02/18/content_10837292.htm, February 18

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http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Asian-stocks-fall-as-Japans-apf-14368831.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119845906460548071.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.  December 24. Retrieved on 2008-07-13. 

"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff"

 

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