Fox Networks Group hiring honcho Adrienne Gary has been handling issues in a human resources department long enough to have seen economic downturns before.
“I think the HR professionals have more work to do in a challenging time, because they have to be respectful of those people who are leaving,” says the upbeat executive VP of HR, who advocates protecting the employee base as a main concern.
Fox Networks has gotten by without major layoffs in the past year. That’s more than luck (though Gary searches for the nearest wooden surface as she delivers the news); it’s a question of priorities.
When the economy started to shrink, the company reached out to its execs.
“They conscientiously came forward with some really large cost-containment initiatives rather than job elimination,” Gary explains from her office on the Fox lot.
T&E is one area where it pays to be conservative, and Fox Networks switched from pricey in-person meetings to videoconferencing.
One common mistake companies make is rushing to show short-term savings by cutting headcount, only to face higher costs down the road.
“For continuity purposes, it costs too much money to go out, recruit and re-train,” Gary says.
And layoffs can be just as traumatic for those left standing as the people who were let go.
“You don’t want to lose those great employees the second the economy starts to go back up — and I am somewhat optimistic that it will by the end of the year,” she says.
Communication is the key to maintaining morale, which in turn keeps employees productive.
At Fox Networks, Gary helped coordinated a no-holds-barred Q&A with CEO Tony Vinciquerra last December. The forum gave employees frank insights into how the company was handling the economic pressure.
“You can’t promise anything, but you certainly can tell them what we’re doing regarding their employment and their status here in the company,” Gary says.
Sometimes there’s just no getting around job cuts. Before joining Fox, Gary spent more than 20 years in HR at Warner Bros. Filmed Entertainment, where she was involved with the studio’s acquisition of Lorimar Television. That meant cutting nearly 600 jobs — and without a single lawsuit.
“You have to be thoughtful and hold the hand of the folks who are leaving. They’re good guys and efficient employees, but these things happen,” she stresses, recommending that some employers offer outplacement assistance and resume training for the team members they can’t afford to keep.
Acquisitions and new product launches pose an incredible opportunity to boost morale, Gary says. When staffing such new ventures as Fuel TV and Hulu.com, Gary starts her talent searches inside the company.
“When people see folks promoted within the organization, it gives them promise,” she says.
That’s a policy that stretches from top execs all the way down to the intern ranks — even Fox Broadcast Networks chair Peter Rice started as an intern.
Gary estimates that the company has hired about 450 people in the past fiscal year, adding that 32% of the interns who were graduating seniors a year ago now have jobs in the company.