News Column

HR Battles to Conquer

June 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

Derek Reveron

Human resource managers faced
a double-whammy in 2001:
a national recession and the impact of the September 11 attacks. Many Hispanic Business 500® CEOs were forced to lay off workers and pass along big increases in healthcare costs to their remaining employees. Others adapted by shifting people from weaker to stronger branches of the business.

In such circumstances, low employee morale and a soured reputation lurk as hidden dangers. “Employees are our lifeblood,” says Gabriel Chavez, CEO of California-based Technology Resource Center, the number 418 company on the Hispanic Business 500. “We don’t believe in a lot of interference between management and employees.”

If communicating bad news is not done with sensitivity, it can hurt a company’s reputation, lower productivity, and make it harder to hire more employees, says Suzanne Lemen, CEO of Dynamic Corporate Solutions, a Florida-based human resource consulting firm. She cites an example of poor communication with workers: a healthcare insurance firm recently gathered employees and simply read a list of those who were losing their jobs.

Colorado-based ATA Services, a staffing firm that ranks number 479 on the Hispanic Business 500, handles matters differently. Last year ATA management had to inform 40 workers placed in jobs with telecommunications companies that their employment would end. “We called them individually,” says CEO Bernie Velasquez. “We took their feelings into consideration and softened the blow as much as we could.”

As business in the telecommunications and technology industries dried up, ATA Services retrained some of its salespeople to target government agencies and security-related firms. The company held seminars for employees and sent some of them to workshops sponsored by the Small Business Administration. The result: new contracts, and expected revenues of $8 million in 2002, up from $6 million in 2001, according to Mr. Velasquez.

The shadow of September 11 affected both worker psychology and the labor market. The trauma of the attacks and the recession moved many employees to re-examine their priorities, according to survey results from the Society for Human Resource Management. Job security, work-life balance, and job stress have emerged as key issues in career decisions.

HR management in the wake of September 11 also includes background checks and security clearances. “We verify referrals, check public records, and do drug screenings,” Mr. Chavez says.

Despite the challenges, total employment of the Hispanic Business 500 grew 4.9 percent last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the service sector will produce nearly half of all new jobs. Given the strong presence of services among the Hispanic Business 500, spot labor shortages could develop as 2002 progresses.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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