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The workforce adjustment strategies used by workplaces in Britain during the Great Recession

John Sutherland (Department of Work, Employment and Organisation, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Evidence-based HRM

ISSN: 2049-3983

Article publication date: 14 September 2018

Issue publication date: 15 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to provide a human resource management perspective of the workforce adjustment strategies implemented at workplaces in Britain in response to the Great Recession.


The analysis uses an ordered probit and a series of binomial probits to examine a micro data set from the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study.


Not all workplaces were affected equally by the recession. Not all workplaces chose to implement workforce adjustment strategies consequential of the recession, although the probability of a workplace taking no action decreased the greater the adverse effect of the recession on the workplace. Most workplaces used a combination of workforce adjustment strategies. Workplaces implemented strategies more compatible with labour hoarding than labour shedding, i.e., cutting/freezing wages and halting recruitment to fill vacant posts rather than making employees redundant.

Research limitations/implications

What was examined was the incidence of the workforce adjustment strategies, not the number of employees affected by the implementation of a strategy. Further, what was examined were outcomes. What is not known are the processes by which these outcomes were arrived at.


This paper concurs with the findings of previous economic studies that workplaces hoarded labour, cut hours and lowered pay. In so doing, however, it provides a more detailed and more informed human resource management perspective of these adjustment strategies.



The Workplace Employment Relations Study, 2011 was sponsored by: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The principal investigators were: BIS, ACAS and NIESR. The data were collected by NatCen Social Research. The data were deposited at the UK Data Archive (UKDA) by BIS. The data were accessed via UKDA. Crown copyright is held jointly with ESRC, UKCES, ACAS and NIESR. Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland. None of the above parties bears any responsibility for the analysis of the data set undertaken or any interpretation made from this analysis. The bibliographic citation for this data collection is: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and National Institute of Economic and Social Research, Workplace Employee Relations Survey, 2011 (computer file). Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive (distributor), February, 2013. SN: 7226, Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Work, Pensions and Labour Economics Study Group (WPEG) at the University of Sheffield and a departmental seminar at the University of Strathclyde. The author is grateful for the many constructive comments received at these events. Comments from an anonymous referee are also acknowledged.


Sutherland, J. (2019), "The workforce adjustment strategies used by workplaces in Britain during the Great Recession", Evidence-based HRM, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 114-126.



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