How to avoid or minimize staff layoffs during difficult times?

Laid off worker

Dear Working Wise:

I think I’m going to have to lay off some of my staff due to falling oil prices, but I’m concerned that when business picks up again, I’ll have trouble finding the experienced workers I need. Do I have any other options?

Signed Worried

Dear Worried:

It’s been said that difficult times require difficult choices. However, there are a few things companies can consider to avoid or minimize staff layoffs.

You can try increasing efficiency. GO Productivity offers free onsite assessments, workshops, and a self-assessment tool. To learn more, visit or call 1-844-245-8278 toll-free.

You could ask your staff to brainstorm ideas for saving money or finding new customers for your products/services. You might discover an exciting new market, learn that your staff are willing to accept salary or benefit concessions, or that senior staff are willing to accept early retirement.

Before you make any decisions though, you should give some serious thought to how much money your layoffs are actually going to save.

Layoffs can be expensive — costs can include severance pay, banked vacation entitlements and outplacement services.

Layoffs can be time-consuming — your management team will be focused on paperwork and training the rest of the staff to tackle the remaining work instead of making your company money.

Layoffs may only save you money if you don’t have to hire staff back — recruiting and training new employees can cost up to 50 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

For more insight into layoffs, read Thinking About Layoffs? What You Need to Know Before Letting People Go on the ALIS website at

One promising option for you may be the federal government’s Work-sharing program.

Work-sharing helps employers retain their skilled workers and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new staff when business returns to normal.

The program also helps workers maintain their skills and job by supplementing their wages with Employment Insurance benefits on the days they are not working.

The program is open to private, publicly-held and not-for-profit organizations, which have been in business for more than two years.

Work-sharing Agreements can be as short as six weeks and as long as 26 weeks.

For more information on the Work-sharing program, visit

If you still believe that you must lay off your staff, please note that employers who intend to lay off 50 or more staff from a single location are required to provide the Employment Standards Minister a minimum of four weeks notice. For more information on the Notice of Group Layoffs requirement, visit:

For more information on available assistance for employers considering layoffs, contact a Workforce Consultant through the Employer Helpline at: 1-800-661-3753 or e-mail

Workforce Consultants can help you navigate the various employer services available to help you tackle your labour and workforce challenges.

Help for Albertans affected by layoffs is available at:

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Human Services. This column is provided for general information.