Working with budget cuts
Tips for managers and supervisors
| 19 February 2003
By now, most on campus are aware of the state’s financial woes and their potential effect on the university. In anticipation of expected cuts, some departments have been asked to reduce their budgets by five, seven, even ten percent for next year.
Though final budget numbers likely won’t be known until summer, the time to plan for decreased funding is now, say administrators in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). And to assist the campus during these challenging times, that office is available to help departments and units maximize efficiency and trim costs.
“When faced with budget cuts, the first thing many people think of is layoffs,” says Beth Luke, director of operations for OHR. “But that should be the last resort. There are various money-saving steps that can be taken to reduce or eliminate the need to let people go.”
The first step, says Valerie Ventre-Hutton, manager of OHR’s Employee Relations Unit, is for managers and supervisors to determine essential goals for the coming year and prioritize work accordingly.
“Instead of doing things the same old way, one has to look at the work with new eyes,” says Ventre-Hutton. “For example, don’t keep producing a certain report because that’s what your office has always done. Find out if people really need the information you’re compiling.”
When analyzing workflow, she says, supervisors and managers should find out if projects or programs are being duplicated elsewhere on campus; determine how many steps it takes to complete specific assignments and see if the process can be streamlined; and ensure that automated systems are being used to their full potential.
“When new electronic procedures emerge, people are sometimes reluctant to embrace them because they’re more comfortable with the old way,” says Ventre-Hutton. “In these situations, shadow systems are often created and staff end up managing two systems instead of one.”
Another area to look at is spending, says Luke. For example, subscriptions to publications, membership dues for associations, capital improvements, and travel expenses can be reduced or eliminated, and the purchase of equipment deferred. Money can also be saved by sharing common resources with other groups within a department or unit, or across campus.
To reduce salary expenses, supervisors and managers might consider flexible work arrangements, such as voluntary time-reduction for staff interested in working part-time, or job sharing with a colleague.
“This option not only saves money,” says Luke, “but can also serve as a real morale booster for staff during difficult times.”
If staffing is already short due to job vacancies, she adds, then consider using a temporary employee or a student to complete short-term projects with specific start and end dates, instead of hiring a full-time employee.
Taking these and other cost-saving steps, says Luke, will make campus departments more efficient and help them save money.
“This is the time for us to get creative with the way we operate. There are many areas where costs can be cut, other than staff positions,” she says. “And as supervisors and managers assess how they’ll deal with cuts, they need to solicit the input of their staff. Sometimes the best information comes from those who are closest to the work.”
Luke would also like to remind campus leaders that, even though times are tough, training for staff should not be halted.
“If departments and units do end up restructuring their work processes due to budget cuts, then having staff who possess a variety of skills will make these transitions much easier,” she says. “There are a number of free or low-cost classes offered on campus, and funds are also available through the Career Development Opportunity Program.”
Before developing or employing any significant cost-saving measures, Ventre-Hutton says managers, supervisors, and directors should first contact an Employee Relations specialist in her office.
“We can advise on the various options available, and help tailor a program that addresses the specific needs of a department or unit,” she says. “Our specialists can also coach leaders on how to present new processes and structures to their staff, so that all sensitivities are considered.”
Her group collaborates with several other campus resources, such as the Center for Organizational Effectiveness and CARE Services, when offering support for the campus.
To reach the Employee Relations Unit, call 642-7163 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.