When the recession first hit, many employers looked at ways to cut costs immediately. Many employers reduced staff or eliminated 401(k) matching, but these rash moves often turn out to be mistakes, says Jackie Greaner, North America leader of talent management at Towers Watson, a global professional services company in New York City.

"Employees want to see their company trying different techniques or different strategies to accomplish the financial goal, even if they are belt tightening," Greaner says. "How the company gets to those cost reductions through those recessions and down phasing says a lot about the company's values, the culture, and how employees are respected and appreciated. It's companies that don't do that well that have made some significant mistakes."

In tough times, Greaner finds it's better to offer employees flexible work options that still reduce costs while keeping the work force feeling positive. For instance, instead of cutting employees, an employer can offer them the chance to work three days a week rather than five until the company is in a better position. This tells employees that their employment is still valued but also better manages the personnel budget.

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