These are anxious times for the sector. A recent Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation survey of its members reported that the decline in the sector's income over the past three years "represents the first long-term economic contraction in the sector for at least 10 years. This trend seems likely to continue."
Forty-seven per cent of members said that in the 12 months leading up to the survey they had increased expenditure, but only 34 per cent had experienced an increase in income; 40 per cent reported a fall in income, but only 25 per cent reduced their expenditure; and 33 per cent reported a reduction in reserves, with 15 per cent having reserves equivalent to less than one month's expenditure and 40 per cent having reserves equivalent to less than three months.
The combination of less secure income, marketisation and increasing need is contributing to a difficult operating environment, particularly for small charities that are reliant on local government funds. From an HR perspective, this means difficult changes, often on tight timescales, such as downsizing and asking staff to do more for less.
Change is difficult for anyone, especially when it involves your livelihood and an organisation or services you care about. Many staff, even if they are expecting redundancies, find it difficult to engage with the processes necessary to keep the organisation going. This is normal and to be expected. One extra challenge in HR is that people might end up being signed off with stress when you need to involve them in consultation in a fixed time period. One question is: should you delay processes to accommodate these staff?
This requires careful judgement. When I advise clients on these issues, I always imagine the Employment Tribunal chair asking me why I did what I did - I find this to be a good, rigorous test of fairness. The factors to consider are: the state of finances and the urgency to save money is the basis of your business case for change; your redundancy policy; legal timelines for consultation; and your sickness absence policy (if you have one). If you have 15 staff at risk of redundancy, one of whom is off sick, is it fair to delay the process and cause more anxiety for the other 14? The point is to maintain channels of communication with any staff affected by the process who are absent.
Regardless of what it says in your sickness absence policy, you should engage with staff to let them know what is going on. If someone is off sick, ask them for a medical report from their GP to assess how you can engage with them: could they manage a one-hour meeting somewhere convenient to them - at their home, even? The message should be that the process will continue whether or not they are present, and that the organisation wishes to engage with them in the best way possible without adding to their stress.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant